A federal judge Tuesday granted freedom to a computer hacker who helped Anonymous and other groups attack credit card companies, governments from Algeria to Zimbabwe, and media outlets but who turned government informant after his arrest.
Hector Xavier Monsegur, 30, — known online as "Sabu" — could have received 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to hacking, fraud and identity theft. But New York prosecutors, who said Monsegur immediately began cooperating with federal agents after his arrest in June 2011, requested that he be sentenced to the time he has served since then — seven months in prison.
"It was truly extraordinary," U.S. District Chief Judge Loretta Preska said of Monsegur's cooperation, noting he worked around-the-clock for months, disrupting or preventing at least 300 computer hacks over the last three years. "We don't often hear of this."
Prosecutors say Monsegur provided information that has led to the arrests of at least eight major co-conspirators. They included Jeremy Hammond, who was the FBI's No. 1 cybercriminal target when he was arrested in 2012. Hammond now is serving a 10-year sentence.
In seeking leniency, the prosecutors noted that Monsegur was vilified online by supporters of Anonymous and was repeatedly "approached on the street and threatened or menaced about his cooperation once it became publicly known" in 2012. There was such concern about the threats that the government relocated Monsegur and certain members of his family.
Prosecutors said Monsegur helped disrupt or prevent hacks against divisions of the U.S. government including the armed forces, Congress, courts and NASA; international intergovernmental organizations; and several private companies. He prevented millions of dollars in losses and also pointed out vulnerabilities in infrastructure, including at a U.S. water utility and at a foreign energy company.
In an indictment after his arrest, Monsegur was described as an "influential member" of Anonymous and two other hacking organizations: Internet Feds and Lulz Security, or LulzSec. Prosecutors said Monsegur was a "rooter" whose skills included spotting vulnerabilities in potential targets.
His alleged hacking for Anonymous began in December 2010 with his participation in an operation that attacked the websites of Visa, Mastercard and PayPal. In early 2011, prosecutors said Monsegur helped stage attacks on government websites of Algeria, Tunisia, Yemen and Zimbabwe.
The indictment said that during the same time period Monsegur infiltrated the computer systems of media organizations, including Fox Broadcasting. Prosecutors said Monsegur and co-conspirators accessed Fox computer servers and stole information related to the network's show X-Factor.
Prosecutors say PBS was attacked in May 2011 in retaliation for what Monsegur and co-conspirators considered unfair coverage of WikiLeaks on the show Frontline. Among other things, the hackers posted a fake story on the PBS NewsHour website saying that rapper Tupac Shakur was alive and living in New Zealand.
Monsegur also targeted individuals, stealing credit card information to pay his bills and selling that information to others to do the same.
After Tuesday's sentencing, Monsegur's attorney, Philip Weinstein, said his client seeks work and would not rule out a government job. "He's taught the government things they don't know," he said.
Reporting: Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, New York Times