Anonymous no more: HBGary goes down

Emails released by 'hacktivist' group Anonymous show federal security firm to be dangerously arrogant and hopelessly inept

Last week, in a straight-out-of-Hollywood B-movie plot, we learned that an obscure cyber security company was trying to take out a whistleblowing site on behalf of a Fortune 50 corporation, thanks to a shadowy group of uber geeks whose identities are as yet unknown.

(Quick, get me Matt Damon. He's not available? Get me someone who looks like Matt Damon. OK, we'll settle for Shia LeBeouf.)

[ Also on Fasten your seatbelts -- Cringely predicts hacking will go mainstream in 2011. | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. ]

But the saga of HBGary Federal, WikiLeaks, and Anonymous is still unfolding, thanks to yet more private emails released by Anonymous into the wild. InfoWorld blogger Woody Leonhard has a nice summary of all that has transpired so far.

Here's a quick list of the dirty dealings buried in those emails:

  • HBGary Fed (HBGF) was one of five companies that were pitching a proposal to take down WikiLeaks on behalf of Bank of America. Palantir and Berico immediately severed all ties with HBGF and apologized. As far as I know, Booz Allen and law firm Hunton & Williams have yet to issue a statement, while BofA claims it never heard of or saw this proposal. (Color me surprised.)
  • HGBF was also targeting top journalists, including Salon's Glenn Greenwald and former New York Times reporter Jennifer 8. Lee.
  • HGBF had a copy of Stuxnet, the virus allegedly developed by U.S. and Israeli spy agencies to monkey wrench Iran's nuclear facilities, and may have been planning to use it for its own nefarious purposes. (Now, of course, Anonymous has that code. Nervous yet?)
  • According to, HBGary may have been developing a new Windows rootkit (code name: Magenta) that is undetectable and impossible to kill.
  • Fill in the blank. I'm sure more revelations will arise before I've finished this blog post.

Want to peek inside those emails? Try this search engine. (I know what you're wondering: No, I am not in them. Not yet, anyway. Justin Bieber, on the other hand, is mentioned in two of them. Go figure.)

All of this is known only because various members of Anonymous took exception to a story in the Financial Times earlier this month in which HBGF spook-in-chief Aaron Barr bragged about infiltrating Anonymous using fake social network profiles and other publicly available information. He even claimed to know the real identities of the group's "leaders."

Except he was dead wrong.

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