Who is the mystery sixth member of LulzSec?
Analysis Thursday’s sentencing of three core members of hacktivist crew LulzSec and an accomplice hacker who gave them access to a botnet closes an important chapter in the history of activism. But it also leaves a number of important questions unanswered.
One of the most interesting of these puzzlers is the identity of the mysterious sixth member of the group.
LulzSec was a constant feature of the information security headlines in May-June 2011 during its “50 days of Lulz” when it attacked Fox, PBS, Sony, Nintendo, Sega, FBI-affiliated security outfits such as Infragard and HB Gary Federal, the US Senate, the Arizona State Police, the CIA and the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency.
Most of its targets were entertainment firms opposing file-sharing, information security outfit, or law enforcement agencies. Tactics ran from basic website-flooding attacks to defacement and site redirection. In several cases the group published stolen data from compromised websites.
The motive of the group was described by prosecutors during a London sentencing hearing this week as “anarchic self-amusement” rather than anything profit-motivated. In truth filthy lucre does play a part in the story of LulzSec, even though the overriding driver appeared in several cases to be the chance for the accused to play rock-star black-hat hackers on a global stage, sticking two fingers up to The Man.
LulzSec had six core members: The first four were Topiary aka Jake Davis (@aTopiary), UK; T-Flow, aka Mustafa Al-Bassam (@let_it_tflow), UK; Kayla, aka Ryan Ackroyd (@lolspoon), UK; Sabu, aka Hector Monsegur (@anonymouSabu), US.
The final two, at least according to the US Attorney’s Office and the FBI indictment, were Pwnsauce, named as Darren Martyn (@_pwnsauce), Ireland; and finally the mysterious AVunit (@AvunitAnon), whose identity is unknown.
The first three of these suspects were sentenced in London’s Southwark Crown Court on Thursday. Jake Davis, 19, of Lerwick, Shetland received a 24-month sentence in a young offenders’ institute, of which he’ll serve half.
Ryan Ackroyd, 26, of Mexborough, Doncaster, received a 30-month sentence. Providing he behaves himself, he’ll serve only 15 months. Mustafa Al-Bassam, 18, from Peckham, south London, got a 20-month sentence, suspended for two years, as well as 300 hours of community work. Al-Bassam avoided jail because of he was underage and still at school at the times of his offences.
Ryan Cleary (AKA Viral), 21, of Wickford, Essex, was found to have supplied a botnet of around 100,000 compromised computers that acted as a platform for LulzSec to blitz targeted websites. He was not a core member of the group but was prosecuted in the same case and ultimately received the most severe punishment of all the accused: a 32-month prison sentence.
Extradition ‘not anticipated’
The quartet were investigated in a joint operation by the Metropolitan Police’s Central e-Crime Unit and the FBI. In a statement welcoming the sentencing, Scotland Yard explained that each member of the group had a clearly defined role.
Ackroyd was responsible for researching and executing many of their hacks, Cleary assisted by allowing the use of his botnet – a system of malware-infected computers he controlled – to coordinate DDoS attacks. Al-Bassam assisted in discovering and exploiting online vulnerabilities, and also created and controlled LulzSec’s website. Davis was their spokesperson, managing their Twitter account and press releases.
Karen Todner, Cleary’s solicitor (and the law firm who represented McKinnon, issued a statement on Thursday saying they “do not anticipate” that he will become the subject of a US extradition request. Davis has also been indicted in the US but early reports suggest its unlikely that US authorities will seek his extradition.
The alleged ringleader of LulzSec, US-based Hector Xavier Monsegur – known online as “Sabu” – agreed to act as an informant following his arrest in June 2011, according to the FBI. The Feds said that Monsegur had helped them to identify other members of the group and other hackers.
Monsegur frequently acted as the group’s ideologue as well as directing attack campaigns. He was the midfield play-maker in a group that was at least nominally leaderless. He has already pleaded guilty to 12 counts of hacking, bank fraud, and identity theft and will be sentenced in August.
Darren Martyn (Pwnsauce) 26, of Galway, Ireland, was indicted in March 2012 for conspiring with other LulzSec members to attack Fox Broadcasting Company, Sony Pictures Entertainment, and the Public Broadcasting Service. He also allegedly hacked into the website of Fine Gael, a political party in Ireland. He’s yet to be tried.
That all means that while four of the six core members of LulzSec have been caught, and police have indicted a fifth man whom they suspect of being number five, the identity of Avunit remains a mystery, presumably even to Sabu or other members of the group who might have given him up in the hope of receiving a lesser sentence.
“We have no idea who Avunit is,” writes Mikko Hypponen, CRO at Finnish anti-virus firm F-Secure. “We have no identity. We don’t even know which continent he is from.”
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