Modern field guide to security and privacy

Making sense of an Anonymous feud with The Daily Dot

Anonymous is targeting the online tech publication for bringing aboard hacker-turned-FBI informant Hector “Sabu” Monsegur.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters/File
Hector Xaviar Monsegur, the former hacker known as Sabu, arrived at a Manhattan courthouse last year to be sentenced for attacking the websites of PayPal, MasterCard, and Visa. While Monsegur, center, was facing 26 years, his sentence was reduced to time served for aiding the FBI in its investigation.

Members of the underground hacker collective Anonymous rarely go after the media. But the loosely organized network has made an exception for The Daily Dot, which was considered an ally until it recently began publishing reviews by a former hacker who has become a pariah among Anonymous stalwarts.

Hector “Sabu” Monsegur was a revered and charismatic leader within their Internet community of hacktivists and online pranksters until March 2012, when it came out that he was working as an informant with the FBI. He aided federal agents in their arrest and prosecution of several prominent members of the hacker crews LulzSec and AntiSec.

Those prosecutions hit Anonymous hard, and had a chilling effect on how they communicate and who is trusted within their circles. While its feud with The Daily Dot is a reflection of its sustained resentment toward Monsegur, it also signals a split with a publication that until now had enjoyed a close relationship with the shadowy network.

The Daily Dot (where this reporter once worked) made a name for itself in part through its close coverage of Anonymous. In fact, it was one of the earliest Internet-focused publications to write about Anonymous regularly. The collective would give The Daily Dot reporters scoops and one of its writers previously administered Anonymous Twitter accounts.

That close relationship does not seem to have dissuaded many Anonymous members from advocating for the boycott. While not all Anonymous affiliates are supporting #OpDDD, it has received considerable support from the larger Anonymous mouthpieces such as the Twitter accounts @YourAnonNews and @YourAnonCentral.

"This is one of those dog whistles that everyone kinda has to be for" said a longtime critic of Anonymous who goes by the pseudonym Kilgoar. And because of that, he said, many in the Anonymous camp are jumping on board in a show of solidarity.  

Anonymous's boycott of The Daily Dot appears to be the first against an American media outlet, although prior boycotts include everything from Netflix to the Nation of Israel. In the past, when Anonymous has singled out the media, that typically results in the hackers taking over their social media accounts or defacing websites. The collective briefly took down the CBS website in 2012 and also briefly took over Twitter accounts for "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report." Fox News and MTV have been threatened with hacks that never materialized. When Anonymous networks overseas attack the press, they usually justify those actions by saying those media outlets are government mouthpieces.

While the boycott against The Daily Dot is a departure for the hacktivists, it is being carried out like other Anonymous operations. There's the hashtag – #OpDDD for Destroy Daily Dot – as well as videos, social media posts, and images. Anonymous has also advocated for calls and e-mails to Daily Dot advertisers to ask them to stop doing business with the site.

Mr. Monsegur's first posts for The Daily Dot were reviews of the recent hacker movie "Blackhat" and the premier of "CSI: Cyber." In response to the backlash over his work, Daily Dot editor Austin Powell wrote on the site, “No one is more qualified to discuss the realism of a show about a hacker informant than the world's most notorious hacker informant."

Indeed, Monsegur had an extensive and storied career as a hacker until he connected with the federal agents in June 2011 after he was arrested for computer crimes. The maximum sentences for his initial charges – for hacking, fraud and identity theft – could have amounted to 124 years in prison. But under the watch of the FBI, Monsegur helped build a case against five colleagues, including Jeremy Hammond, a well-known hacker now serving a 10 year prison term. Because of his work with the FBI, Monsegur avoided a prison sentence for his charges.

So far, Anonymous is not attacking The Daily Dot site with a signature distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attack. Whether the boycott will have any real effect remains to be seen. 

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