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Federal prosecutors have charged five men in connection with some of the biggest computer hacks in the last few years. The FBI says the hackers penetrated the computer systems of businesses, including Fox Broadcasting and Sony Pictures. They allegedly stole confidential information and splashed it all over the Internet. The FBI cracked the case with the help of an insider.
Here is more from NPR's Carrie Johnson.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: The Justice Department says many of the hackers belong to a loose group of electronic vigilantes that calls itself the Internet Feds, waging a deliberate campaign of online destruction.
Stewart Baker is a cyber security lawyer in Washington.
STEWART BAKER: You might call them a digital lynch mob 'cause they go around randomly attacking people that they're unhappy with.
JOHNSON: According to an investigation that stretched across five U.S. states and all the way to Scotland Yard, that list of attacks grew and grew. Most of the action dates to early 2011, when the men allegedly conspired to break into a computer security firm known as HB Gary. They took sensitive documents about the firm's clients and exposed them for public view.
Next, they targeted the computer systems of Fox, grabbing information about 70,000 contestants who vied to appear on the "X Factor" music show. And in May 2011, they formed a new high profile group, Lulz Security, which targeted PBS after its show "Frontline" broadcast a story about the website WikiLeaks. The collective retaliated by posting a bogus story on the PBS website claiming the rapper Tupac Shakur was actually alive and living in New Zealand.
BAKER: This group was unrepentant enough and did enough damage and became prominent enough that I think the book's going to get thrown at them.
JOHNSON: The campaign raged on this year - this time, targeting law enforcement. In January, a member of the hacking group based in Ireland allegedly broke into the personal email account of an Irish policeman. He learned the FBI and international authorities were planning to discuss ongoing investigations of computer hackers. Then, prosecutors say, the hacker secretly recorded the call and shared it with others.
Mike DuBose leads the cyber investigations group at the Kroll security firm.
MIKE DUBOSE: The law enforcement challenge posed by these types of online conspiracies generally is that the members of the group likely have never met, very often don't know each others' true identities.
JOHNSON: But in this case, prosecutors relied on Hector Monsegur, a well-known hacker from the Lower East Side of New York, who uses the online handle Sabu. Monsegur secretly pleaded guilty in August 2011 to a dozen criminal charges, including conspiracy, computer hacking, and identity theft. Since then, to limit his prison sentence, he's apparently been leading investigators in real time through the hazy world of high stakes computer hacking.
Dubose of Kroll says proactive cooperation can be essential to cracking the code.
Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.
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