If you're a hacker, you can't trust anyone. Even the fellow gamers in an Xbox forum. That's how an 18-year-old leader of the notorious hacking group Lulz Security got tripped up, according to one of his comrades.
For 50 days this summer, a hacker who went by the name "Topiary" acted as the unofficial spokesman of the hacking group LulzSec. Last month Topiary was arrested and revealed to be an 18-year-old Scottish guy named Jake Davis who lived in the remote Shetland Islands. Davis, a fan of super cool hacker shadez and science books, was also apparently a big Xbox gamer—what else are you going to do in the Shetland Islands?—and that may have led to his downfall, it turns out.
Nobody knows exactly how Topiary was caught. In an interview just days before he was arrested, he seemed supremely confident he would never be tracked down. Indeed, the amount of misinformation swirling around Topiary's identity swaddled him like a protective blanket. But in a chat log leaked yesterday, the LulzSec leader Sabu hints that Topiary's downfall came from an unlikely source.
Topiary was an avid xbox gamer…Was known in the community talked a lot. One of the forum users doxed [identified] him and kept throwing the info out there enough that someone was smart enough to make the connection."
Indeed, we've heard that weeks before Topiary's identity was revealed someone began anonymously contacting media and LulzSec adversaries with the tantalizing tip that Topiary was someone named "Jake from Shetland." They also started taunting Topiary on Twitter with his true identity. According to Sabu, that was the vengeful Xbox forum user, who'd maybe played a few too many Grand Theft Auto sequels.
The Xbox detail slipped out yesterday, appropriately, in a flame war between Sabu and a rival hacker, Mike "Virus" Nieves, in which each lobbed accusations that the other was snitching to the feds. (In 2007, Nieves was charged with hacking AOL and causing $500,000 in damages.) Nieves accused Sabu of snitching out Topiary; Sabu responded that it was all the Xbox fan's fault.
Sabu then leveled some accusations of his own, claiming Virus was an NYPD informant. "All you're doing is taking down a friend/ally, cause I doubt they're paying you," Sabu said. "I just want to know the gain from taking me down, besides fame for being a snitch." Virus told us in a chat he's not working for the authorities.
It's a peek into the ultra-paranoid state a spate of arrests have thrown Anonymous hackers into. Where reality bends into layer upon layer of snitches and counter-snitches, but the real informant might be some kid who's pissed you keep killing him in Modern Warfare 2.
[Photos of Jake Davis outside a courthouse in London via Getty]