Attacks/Breaches
5/16/2014
02:00 PM
Connect Directly
RSS
E-Mail
50%
50%

Gawker Attacker Turned FBI Informant, Pursued Other Hackers

Unsealed court documents reveal that "Eekdacat" hacked Gawker, but related charges were dropped after the hacker helped the FBI nab other hackers.

10 Ways To Fight Digital Theft & Fraud
10 Ways To Fight Digital Theft & Fraud
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

The hacker behind the notorious theft of up to 1.3 million passwords from Gawker media sites in 2010 has been revealed.

Thomas Madden, a.k.a. Eekdacat, was arrested on related charges at 6:15 a.m. on June 29, 2011, by FBI agents, according to newly unsealed court documents. But in return for the man's cooperation and in light of his autism, the Department of Justice deferred -- and ultimately dismissed -- charges related to the theft of passwords from Gawker, the Smoking Gun reported Thursday.

According to an "ex parte and sealed application and affirmation" filed in federal court -- on the day Madden was arrested -- by assistant US attorney Rosemary Nidiry, "the defendant actively is cooperating with the government... [and] has provided the government with detailed information concerning the activities of certain individuals who are suspected of being involved in unauthorized computer intrusions or 'hacks' into various computer networks of several well-known corporations."

[The Danish security group CSIS warns of a banking Trojan reaching customers in new countries. Read Zeus 'Gameover' Trojan Expands Global Reach.]

For Madden's safety, however, Nidiry argued that his assistance should be kept secret, and that court documents should refer to him as "John Doe" until the government wrapped its related observations.

This is the first time that the attacker behind the December 2010 hack of Gawker media sites has been identified. At the time of the hack, a self-proclaimed participant in the "Gnosis" hacking effort said it had been launched in response to the media site's "arrogance" at having told WikiLeaks supporters to "bring it on."

According to a criminal complaint filed June 27, 2011 -- the day after the Gawker hack -- Eekdacat told an online friend that he'd written the Gnosis-related communications and boasted that "over 1 million people got compromised because of me." He also said that the Gawker passwords were "crypt(3) salted MD5 and DES," and that he'd already cracked about 200,000 of them. In response to a question about whether Gawker's software was up to date, he said, "The encryption was over 10 years old I forget their OS was like 9 updates behind big updates."

Madden, who's now 26, declined to discuss his hacking activities with the Smoking Gun, except to say that he's had "no contact with those people" since his arrest.

An emailed request for comment sent to a Hushmail address through which Eekdacat previously communicated with InformationWeek bounced back with a "user unknown" error message.

For IT administrators, when it comes to stopping hackers of Madden's ilk, the takeaway isn't rocket science: Use up-to-date, patched versions of all Internet-connected software; properly secure passwords; and avoid purposefully antagonizing would-be attackers. Conversely, given the current hacking state of the art, businesses that fail to follow those basic precepts shouldn't be surprised if their sites and databases get hacked and their contents "doxed" for all to see.

One consolation for businesses that get doxed is that many hackers who publicly release stolen data have a difficult time avoiding arrest. According to the criminal complaint, for example, the FBI was handed Madden on a platter after he left online clues as to his actual IP address, which were spotted by a group of third-party researchers calling themselves the A-Team.

The complaint also cites a number of online chats between Madden and a fellow university student. According to the Smoking Gun, the FBI obtained the chats after Madden and the student had a falling out, after which Madden opened a Yahoo account under a fake name and emailed the other student's teachers, accusing him of cheating. Subsequently, the unnamed student shared the chat transcripts with the bureau, triggering an investigation by a criminal cyber intrusion squad lead by FBI agent Olivia Olson.

Those facts square with previous reports that Olson compiled two warrants relating to two confidential witnesses who were both arrested on June 29, 2011. Both were also put through psychiatric exams.

According to the complaint, while Madden went by Eekdacat in the online chats, he referred to himself at least once as Tom. In addition, the complaint noted that Eekdacat had been referenced in a document posted to Pastebin on June 25, 2011, by the A-Team that offered clues to LulzSec members' identities. The document included

Mathew Schwartz is a freelance writer, editor, and photographer, as well the InformationWeek information security reporter. View Full Bio

Previous
1 of 2
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
RyanSepe
50%
50%
RyanSepe,
User Rank: Ninja
5/18/2014 | 11:23:25 AM
Stay Ahead of the Curve
I think the most important message in this scenario is to always patch and stay current. Having an outdated OS and outdated encryption (regular DES) is two huge vulnerabilities to your enterprise saftey. Resolving these won't stop zero day attacks but it will help your network from being wide open.

Also, I am not sure what being autistic has anything to do with the judgment. I believe that is irrelevant in nature to this case. I am glad that he saw fit to cooperate after his capture. Hopefully, this resulted in the prevention of many future attacks. Thoughts?
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Flash Poll
Current Issue
Cartoon
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2014-0972
Published: 2014-08-01
The kgsl graphics driver for the Linux kernel 3.x, as used in Qualcomm Innovation Center (QuIC) Android contributions for MSM devices and other products, does not properly prevent write access to IOMMU context registers, which allows local users to select a custom page table, and consequently write ...

CVE-2014-2627
Published: 2014-08-01
Unspecified vulnerability in HP NonStop NetBatch G06.14 through G06.32.01, H06 through H06.28, and J06 through J06.17.01 allows remote authenticated users to gain privileges for NetBatch job execution via unknown vectors.

CVE-2014-3009
Published: 2014-08-01
The GDS component in IBM InfoSphere Master Data Management - Collaborative Edition 10.0 through 11.0 and InfoSphere Master Data Management Server for Product Information Management 9.0 and 9.1 does not properly handle FRAME elements, which makes it easier for remote authenticated users to conduct ph...

CVE-2014-3302
Published: 2014-08-01
user.php in Cisco WebEx Meetings Server 1.5(.1.131) and earlier does not properly implement the token timer for authenticated encryption, which allows remote attackers to obtain sensitive information via a crafted URL, aka Bug ID CSCuj81708.

CVE-2014-3534
Published: 2014-08-01
arch/s390/kernel/ptrace.c in the Linux kernel before 3.15.8 on the s390 platform does not properly restrict address-space control operations in PTRACE_POKEUSR_AREA requests, which allows local users to obtain read and write access to kernel memory locations, and consequently gain privileges, via a c...

Best of the Web
Dark Reading Radio