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LulzSec leader turns informant, feds arrest key hackers

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LulzSec leader Hector Xavier Monsegur

Hacker group LulzSec, whose reign of online terror last summer compromised companies ranging from Sony Pictures to Bethesda Softworks, has been dismantled by federal officials, with the group's leader apparently acting as an informant.

The U.S. Attorney's office on Tuesday announced it had charged five people with computer hacking and other crimes. Hector Xavier Monsegur, better known as LulzSec leader "Sabu," had pled guilty to those crimes.

Starting in May 2011, LulzSec claimed responsibility online for a series of major hacking incidents, including hacking the computer systems of PBS and the theft of personal data of roughly 100,000 users of Sony Pictures and 200,000 customers of Bethesda Softworks, the makers of hit game, Skyrim.

"LulzSec undertook a campaign of malicious cyber assaults on the websites and computer systems of various business and governmental entities in the United States and throughout the world," said prosecutors in a statement.

Monsegur, a 28-year old who officials describe as "brilliant, but lazy," was not only the alleged leader of the group, but also the key to its undoing when he logged into an Internet relay chat room without masking his IP address.

Feds monitored him for weeks and moved to arrest him June 7, when another hacker "doxed" him — meaning they had very briefly posted his real name and address online. Afraid he would learn of the incident, officials moved in.

It turned out that the most feared man on the Internet was unemployed, living off welfare in a public housing unit on New York's Lower East Side and the legal guardian of his two young children.

Through the use of the time-honored good cop/bad cop routine -- and the leverage of him not wanting to leave his children -- Monsegur agreed to become an informant.

"It was because of his kids," said one of the arresting agents. "He'd do anything for his kids. He didn't want to go away to prison and leave them. That's how we got him."

Monsegur pled guilty to three counts of computer hacking conspiracy, five counts of computer hacking, one count of computer hacking in furtherance of fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit access device fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and one count of aggravated identity theft. He faces a maximum sentence of 124 years and six months in prison.

LulzSec is an offshoot of the well-known hacking movement Anonymous, and while the arrests have many thinking this could be the beginning of the end, a man who has spoken in the past on behalf of Anonymous believes that's not the case.

"There are lots and lots of people here that continue to work," Anonymous spokesman Barret Brown told The New York Times. "The F.B.I. did not really cut the head off of anything. Anonymous will go forward as usual. So will I. We hired an army of lawyers last January. We are prepared for a big slug-out."

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