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Arrest of British LulzSec Hacker Renews Questions About Barrett Brown’s Activity

Posted on | June 27, 2011 | 12 Comments

The arrest of a 19-year-old British hacker in connection with criminal “denial of service” attacks by the group known as “LulzSec” has raised new questions about the activities of Barrett Brown, the former self-appointed spokesman for the “Anonymous” hacker collective. The New York Times reports:

LONDON — As suspects go, Ryan Cleary did not look dangerous: a pale 19-year-old who looked five years younger, wearing a white skateboarding T-shirt and track pants, standing nervously in a courtroom here on Thursday.
But charges by the British police link Mr. Cleary to a hacking group called Lulz Security, or LulzSec, which has been on an Internet crime spree in recent weeks, attacking Web sites and computer networks including those of the United States Senate, the Central Intelligence Agency and Sony. . . .
Though it is not clear how much notoriety he deserves, Mr. Cleary’s arrest has made him a focus of the public fascination with a wave of computer hacking cases, carried out by amorphous online collectives.
The police say Mr. Cleary is guilty of illegally using a computer to perform denial of service attacks — bombarding Web sites with so many automated messages that they shut down. . . .
LulzSec, experts say, is a splinter group from Anonymous, another online hacking collective. Anonymous is best known for its attacks last year in support of WikiLeaks, led by Julian Assange. The group went after the Web sites of companies like MasterCard and PayPal, which had refused to process donations to WikiLeaks after it disclosed confidential diplomatic cables.
Earlier this year, said Barrett Brown, a former Anonymous activist, “some of the most prominent leaders and hackers broke off and are now LulzSec.”

In February, when Brown emerged as a public spokesman for Anonymous, I asked: “Is the FBI Watching Barrett Brown? (And If They’re Not Already, Shouldn’t They?)

Brown recently claimed to have exposed a “Huge US-led spy operation on Arab world.” Brown’s knowledge of that alleged operation, dubbed “Romas/COIN,” is based on some 70,000 e-mails which hackers stole from a contractor, HBGary Federal.

Twitter messages sent last month by Brown appear to indicate he had advance knowledge of LulzSec’s hacking of the PBS Web site:

LulzSec, a hacker group, has claimed credit for cracking PBS’s website and leaking its login credentials after an episode of its Frontline show–titled “WikiSecrets”–that put a critical spotlight on WikiLeaks and the suspected source of its troves of classified documents, Bradley Manning.

If Brown is now involved in LulzSec, a group whose activities have led to criminal prosecution in England, there would obviously be even more law-enforcement scrutiny of Brown’s activities — especially if, as he claims, his use of stolen e-mails has exposed U.S. intelligence secrets.

Given Brown’s penchant for boastful self-dramatization, it’s hard to tell whether he is exaggerating his role in these criminal hacker conspiracies. But people communicating with Brown should be aware that their communications may be subject to surveillance by federal law enforcement agencies.

UPDATE: Lawyers for the arrested British hacker Ryan Cleary say their client “has cooperated with police and will continue to do so.”

UPDATE II: The Guardian examined logs of LulzSec’s chatroom.

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