I’ve been following the sometimes merry digital pranksters of Anonymous for awhile now. But I was stoked when my AlterNet editor Jan Frel asked me to break down their genius undressing of Aaron Barr’s so-called cybersecurity outfit HBGary Federal and, by association, everyone from the Chamber of Commerce and powerhouse law firm Hunton & Williams to the U.S. Department of Justice. I love the smell of discredited spook loudmouths in the new century’s morning.
Image courtesy Vincent Diamante/Wikipedia
Anonymous Hacker Group Teaches Shady Cyber-Security Companies a Lesson They’ll Never Forget
An apparent coalition of hackers is hitting targets with surprising speed and accuracy — and it looks like it’s just the beginning.
Aaron Barr must feel like he’s wearing clown shoes.
Shortly after the overreaching CEO of Sacramento’s so-called cybersecurity outfit, HBGary Federal, assembled an online attack plan against pro-Wikileaks supporters like Salon journalist Glenn Greenwald and prematurely bragged about “pwning” the upstart hacker collective Anonymous privately to his employees and publicly to the Financial Times, Anonymous quickly retaliated by raiding his drives, releasing 40,000 HBGary Federal emails, remotely wiping his iPad and engendering a scathing public disconnection from those who have known and employed him. Evidently, if you fuck with the Internet bull, you still get the real-time horns.
“Rarely in the history of the cybersecurity industry has a company become so toxic so quickly as HBGary Federal,” Andy Greenberg blogged Feb. 15 for Forbes’ Firewall column. “Over the last week, many of the firm’s closest partners and largest clients have cut ties with the Sacramento start-up. And now it’s canceled all public appearances by its executives at the industry’s biggest conference in the hopes of ducking a scandal that seems to grow daily as more of its questionable practices come to light.”
Competitive Intelligence, Rampant Idiocy
Of course, HBGary and Barr are tiny potatoes, especially for the code-savvy web heads of Anonymous, which is why his shamed mug has lately been making the media rounds. In fact, the finest breakdown of Barr and HBGary’s conspiratorial plan has taken shape in Ars Technica’s exhaustive spook farce, “Spy Games: Inside the Convoluted Plot to Bring Down Wikileaks,” which pegged Barr as “The Man Who Knew Too Little” as a parting pop-cult stab.
But Forbes is fooling itself, and you, if it really believes that Barr and HBGary are simply rogue information agents engaging in “questionable practices.” In the insidious world of officially sanctioned hacking — also known as “cybersecurity” or “competitive intelligence,” the preferred corporate nomenclature — Barr and HBGary’s expendable presence extends from the U.S. Department of Justice and the well-connected legal monolith Hunton & Williams to the corrupt finance titans of Bank of America and the Chamber of Commerce. They have all been swept up in HBGary’s discredited wake, as they try to distance themselves from what was basically a routine disinformation campaign to hack and discredit transparency champs like Wikileaks and Anonymous, whose startling disclosures have rocked the previously airtight machinery of the political and economic powers-that-be.
Barr and HBGary’s plan was to put together proposals for Hunton & Williams — which represents conservative corporations like Bank of America, the Chamber of Commerce and Koch Industries — that would scrape the internet, including social networking outlets like Facebook, LinkedIn and Classmates.com, for informational dirt that could be distilled into disinformation attacks that could potentially to bring down supporters of Anonymous and Wikileaks, which has been hinting that it’s about to dump hugely embarrassing data on Bank of America for weeks. On its face, this is nothing new: As former Associated of Certified Fraud Examiners chairman and “competitive intelligence” professional Jonathan Turner told the New York Times, the industry boasts nearly 10,000 companies and a $2 billion market.
HBGary planned to tag-team Wikileaks and Anonymous with Palantir Technologies and Berico Technologies, which has publicly admitted that it was asked to develop a proposal analyzing internal security and public relations problems for a law firm, without naming names. Palantir quickly apologized, explaining that the “right to free speech and the right to privacy are critical to a flourishing democracy” and personally apologizing to pro-Wikileaks supporters like Glenn Greenwald, who it was planning to personally discredit. For its part, Hunton & Williams hasn’t publicly commented on the clusterfuck, although Anonymous’ data dump featured emails between Barr and Hunton & Williams’ partner and corporate investigator John W. Woods. Not so with the much better-known Bank of America, which openly derided HBGary’s PowerPoint presentation to Hunton & Williams: “We’ve never seen the presentation, never evaluated it, and have no interest in it.”