The hacker collective Anonymous has not produced as many high-profile cyber attacks as it once did, a drop-off that can be directly attributed to the arrests of the group’s core members, an FBI official told The Huffington Post this week.
Starting in late 2010, Anonymous captured worldwide attention through a series of attacks against U.S. companies and government agencies, stealing data and defacing or crashing websites.
But the arrests last year of five members of Lulz Security, an influential splinter group of hackers, had a “huge deterrent effect” on Anonymous by creating an “added layer of distrust” within the hacking group, according to Austin P. Berglas, assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s cyber division in New York.
“All of these guys [arrested] were major players in the Anonymous movement, and a lot of people looked to them just because of what they did,” Berglas said in an interview with HuffPost.
The 2012 arrests relied on the help of a key informant, Hector Monsegur, aka “Sabu,” who was caught and then cooperated with the FBI. The fear that one of their own could turn them in has sowed distrust within the hacking collective, according to Berglas.
“The movement is still there, and they’re still yacking on Twitter and posting things, but you don’t hear about these guys coming forward with those large breaches,” he said. “It’s just not happening, and that’s because of the dismantlement of the largest players.”
Gabriella Coleman, a professor at McGill University who studies Anonymous, said there was “no doubt” the arrests dealt a major blow to “a central node of activity” within the group. But Anonymous is still very much alive, she said.
“They could easily emerge again as a force to contend with,” she told HuffPost in an email.
The arrests of members of Anonymous last year were among several highlights to come out of the FBI’s cyber division in New York. (The five core members of Lulz Security have pleaded guilty.) In another case, the FBI in New York led an investigation that resulted in the arrests earlier this year of three alleged operators of the Gozi virus, which infected at least 1 million computers and stole millions of dollars from banks around the world.
A former Army captain, 41-year-old Berglas leads the FBI’s cyber division in New York, one of the busiest of the FBI’s 56 field offices.