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Stratfor Hacker: FBI Entrapment Shaped My Case

Hacker Jeremy Hammond asks for leniency before sentencing, citing the role of FBI informant Sabu in his case. How far can the FBI go with suspected computer criminals?
It's clear that Monsegur, who was quietly arrested by the FBI in June 2011 and immediately turned informant -- before later pleading guilty to a number of charges -- was being run by the FBI. Furthermore, prosecutors have said that he's monitored around the clock, and restricted to using an FBI-provided computer that records everything he does.

That means that Sabu, and thus the FBI, knew about the Stratfor hack before it happened. Notably, Hammond, using the handle "Sup_g," told Sabu on Dec. 6, 2011, that he planned to hack Stratfor, then did so a week later. Sabu, meanwhile, directed Hammond to upload the stolen data to a server that was really controlled by the FBI. But on Dec. 24, after Sabu reportedly attempted to sell the Stratfor data to Julian Assange at WikiLeaks -- he declined the offer -- Hammond publicly released the data. Two days later, Sabu tied Sup_g to another alias, "Anarchaos," that the bureau knew belonged to Hammond. But several months followed before the FBI arrested Hammond.

Could Stratfor's customer database have been protected -- and $2.5 million in damages and cleanup costs avoided? "Jeremy is about to get sentenced for the Stratfor part based on their assessed damages," alternative media expert Nigel Parry, who's been following Hammond's case, told me via email. "And a lot of those damages -- after we get beyond the early part of the hack that netted the credit card numbers (i.e. Stratfor's email losses, its data deletion) -- seem to me to be the direct result of the FBI's blatant hands-off approach and Stratfor's inept sysadmins, who didn't have a single backup of their data?!"

[ Was entrapment involved in the Silk Road arrest? Read Silk Road Founder Arrested. ]

The FBI appears to stand on solid legal ground here. "Unfortunately, there are numerous cases holding that the government has no obligation to mitigate damages, or intervene in a criminal investigation to mitigate the fallout or consequences," attorney Jeff Ifrah said. "There have been cases that have held in different contexts that the government may have been a contributing factor or intervening factor in the loss, but that type of logic ... has not been applied in a loss calculation scenario at a federal criminal sentencing proceeding," he said.

In other words, there's no precedent for getting a sentence -- or restitution -- reduced, owing to FBI entrapment. "In a sentencing context, the only relevant determination is foreseeable loss, or in some circumstances, actual loss," Ifrah said. "But courts default to the former and thus that becomes a crutch to ignore what role the FBI -- in this case -- did or did not play," he said.

The moral of the story: the FBI can entrap hackers, and businesses that have been owned by said hackers may get used as bait. So, would-be hackers, beware the FBI. And businesses -- especially ones that bill themselves as being private intelligence contractors, yet which store credit card data in plaintext format and see a crucial database get owned by a simple SQL injection attack -- make sure your information security defenses are strong enough to prevent you becoming hackbait.

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