A Quarter of U.S. Hackers Rat Out Their Friends to the FBI

Paul Lilly

The notion of having honor among thieves doesn't necessarily extend into the underground hacking community in the U.S., a world the FBI and Secret Service have successfully burrowed into and, in a sense, even maintain at least a modicum of control. A new report suggests that one in four hackers are FBI informers who secretly drop dimes on their peers rather than face what could be stiff penalties for running afoul of cyber laws.

That 25 percent figure comes courtesy of Eric Corley, publisher of 2600: The Hacker Quarterly, an American magazine dealing with hacking and phreaking.

"Owing to the harsh penalties involved and the relative inexperience with the law that many hackers have, they are rather susceptible to intimidation," Corley told the U.K.'s Guardian .

One of the more widely known examples of the FBI's vast informant network is Adrian Lamo, a convicted hacker who ratted out Bradley Manning, a 23-year-old suspected of passing secret documents to WikiLeaks. Manning engaged in a long instant messaging conversation with Lamo, asking him for advice. That conversation was promptly turned over to the FBI, which went on to detain Manning and have now had him in custody for over a year.

WikiLeaks and the hacking community at large denounced Lamo as a traitor, who said he feared people could be harmed or killed by the publication of thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables.

"Obviously it's been much worse for [Manning] but it's certainly been no picnic for me," Lamo said. "He followed his conscience, and I followed mine."

Lamo isn't alone, and likely won't be the last high profile hacker to turn informant. According to Kevin Poulsen, senior editor at Wired magazine, the FBI is making headway into the notorious hacking group known as Anonymous.

"We have already begun to see Anonymous members attack each other and out each other's IP addresses," Poulsen says. "That's the first step to being susceptible to the FBI."

Image Credit: Warner Bros.

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