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12/10/2012
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Anonymous No Longer: Hacktivist Spokesman Charged

Texas charges a self-professed Anonymous spokesman with handling stolen Stratfor credit card data; Britain convicts four people for Operation Payback DDoS attacks.

Who Is Hacking U.S. Banks? 8 Facts
Who Is Hacking U.S. Banks? 8 Facts
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One of the most publicly visible faces of the Anonymous hacktivist collective faces jail time for allegedly handling data stolen in last year's hack of global intelligence company Stratfor.

A federal grand jury in Dallas Friday returned a 12-count indictment against Barrett Lancaster Brown, 31, who's a former self-proclaimed spokesman -- or some might say chief apologist -- for the Anonymous hacking collective.

The indictment, filed Tuesday in open court, accused Brown of one count of access device fraud, for having stolen credit card numbers in his possession. Brown also is accused of one count of trafficking in stolen authentication features, for allegedly transferring a hyperlink "from the Internet relay chat (IRC) channel called '#Anonops' to an IRC channel under Brown's control called '#ProjectPM,' said hyperlink [providing] access to data stolen from the company Stratfor Global Intelligence, to include in excess of 5,000 credit card account numbers, the card holders' identification information, and the authentication features for the credit cards," such as the card verification value (CVV) printed on the back of cards.

[ Read How To Hire A Hacker. ]

The other 10 counts against Brown all are aggravated identity theft charges relating to 10 specific cardholders who had their credit card information, as well as physical and email addresses, allegedly shared by Brown. Specifically, he's been accused of having "transferred and possessed" their card information, which authorities said occurred between Dec. 25, 2011, and March 6, 2012.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, if Brown is convicted of all charges, he faces a maximum of 15 years in jail for the trafficking count and 10 years for the access device fraud. In addition, he faces a mandatory two years for each aggravated identity theft count, as well as a fine of up to $250,000 for each count. He might also be ordered to pay restitution.

Interestingly, Brown walked away from Anonymous last year, telling Ars Technica in May 2011 that he'd grown dissatisfied by the focus of the group shifting from toppling dictators to ganging up on electronics companies such as Sony. Brown said he'd be spending time instead working with his activist group, "Project PM," which according to its mission statement on Pastebin is designed "to develop new methods by which to use the Internet for positive change and to encourage others to adapt such methods."

Brown has been in jail since being arrested at his home in Dallas on Sept. 12 by FBI agents. His arrest came just hours after he posted a threatening YouTube video called "Why I'm Going to Destroy FBI Agent Robert Smith," in which Brown made references to the agent's children, and threatened to "ruin" the agent's life. Brown now faces charges of threatening a federal agent via the Internet, threatening to publish a U.S. employee's restricted personal information, and threatening retaliation against a federal law enforcement officer. The 12-count indictment against him, filed last week, doesn't include those charges.

Authorities currently also are prosecuting Jeffrey Hammond, who they've accused of masterminding the Stratfor hack and subsequent data release, as well as serving as second-in-command to LulzSec leader Hector Xavier Monsegur, better known as Sabu. If convicted on all charges, Hammond faces a prison term of between 30 years and life imprisonment.

In other hacktivist prosecution news, British authorities Thursday announced that Christopher Wetherhead, 22, has been found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit unauthorized acts with intent to impair the operation of a computer, in violation of the country's 1990 Computer Misuse Act. Authorities said three of Wetherhead's co-conspirators pled guilty to the same charge earlier this year, while another one -- a 15-year-old boy -- received a written warning from a local youth justice board.

"These are important convictions which confirm this type of activity is not merely civil protest but is serious criminal conduct," said detective chief inspector Terry Wilson, who's with the London Metropolitan Police Service's Police Central e-Crime Unit, in a statement.

According to police, Wetherhead's group operated under such nicknames as "Nerdo" and "NikonElite," and "targeted a number of companies from the digital entertainment industry that make up the anti-piracy lobby (i.e. those taking legal actions against illegal file-sharing)," including the British Phonographic Industry. The group then began participating in the Anonymous collective's Operation Payback, which targeted businesses such as MasterCard and PayPal with distributed denial of service attacks, for their having blocked payments to WikiLeaks.

Wetherhead and two of his co-conspirators were first arrested on Jan. 27, 2011, with a fourth man arrested on April 6, 2011. All four are scheduled to return to court on Jan. 14 for pre-sentencing reports.

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