He's part of a group that claims to be behind the recent hack attacks against the CIA, U.S. Senate, Sony, Fox, and PBS. If caught, he could face years in prison. But when we chatted with a member of the notorious hacking collective Lulz Security last night, he said he's not worried about a thing.
On Tuesday, headlines blared that the "mastermind" behind the hacking group Lulz Security (or LulzSec for short) had been arrested in England, a 19-year-old named Ryan Cleary. Many assume that with Cleary behind bars and cooperating with police, it's only a matter of time before the rest of the members of the world's most-wanted hacking group fall, too.
But in a Skype chat last night, a leading member of Lulz Security who goes by the alias "Topiary" says his group—whose core is composed of just a handful of hackers—feels no more threatened than when they burst onto the scene in May with hacks of Fox.com and PBS.
Since May, LulzSec has embarked on a stunning spree of public hacks. They hacked PBS in revenge for an unflattering Wikileaks documentary, attacked an FBI-affiliated non-profit, took down the websites of the CIA and British law enforcement, boasting of their exploits on their popular Twitter feed. They stole and leaked information from corporations like Sony in an effort, they say, to expose poor online security.
But LulzSec also leaked the usernames and passwords of 62,000 random people earlier this month. After the leak, LulzSec gleefully reveled in the havoc their fans were wreaking on Amazon and Facebook accounts using the stolen information. When we asked why LulzSec was attacking innocent internet users, Topiary claimed LulzSec had nothing to do with it.
"We didn't touch them. The Twitter horde did," he said, referring to LulzSec's more than 250,000 Twitter followers. Topiary probably felt no need to justify LulzSec's actions because to him, it's all for laughs.
"LulzSec is the expression of energy through comically malicious and entertaining cybermaterials," he said.
Of course authorities don't find LulzSec very amusing, and the FBI is actively hunting LulzSec. But even the arrest of Ryan Cleary in England hasn't put a damper on their fun, according to Topiary.
"What's changed? Ryan isn't part of LulzSec… No LulzSec arrests have been made. Our Twitter hasn't even been suspended," he said.
According to Topiary, media reports have vastly exaggerated Ryan Cleary's connection to LulzSec. "The mass media are clueless and have spun 'LulzSec leader' out of their own asses, when there are no facts to support that Ryan is related to LulzSec," he said.
Topiary points to the charges against Cleary, which include a number of hack attacks that occurred in late 2010, long before Lulz Security existed. However, Cleary is also charged with bringing down the website of the British Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) on June 20th, the same day Lulz Security claimed to have taken it down. Lulz has said on its Twitter that, "maybe he hit SOCA after we did?" It was suspiciously down after we let it up."
Cleary's only connection to LulzSec, Topiary claims, was that he ran a chat server that hosted a public LulzSec "fan room" where supporters could gather. "We had identical fan chats on 2600, AnonOps, Efnet, Rizon, Unreal, etc…" Topiary says, listing off other chat networks.
Threats to LulzSec don't just come from authorities. Rival hackers with names like "Th3j35t3r," "Team P0ison" and "Web Ninjas" have been engaged in increasingly frenzied attempts to identify LulzSec members. LulzSec often responds viciously to people who claim to have identified them, which in turn makes LulzSec's antagonists certain they're right. We asked Topiary why, if these groups really aren't onto anything, LulzSec protests so much.
"They are lonely people that are programmed to feel that they need an enemy at all times," Topiary said. "If we're out of their lives, they don't have much going for them."
LulzSec better be as secure as Topiary thinks it is, because they are embarking on their biggest hack yet. Their latest operation, called "Antisec," is targeting government agencies and banks with the specific goal of stealing secret documents and leaking them. The first leak will supposedly be released Friday, but Topiary declined to give us a preview.
"As an arrogant and violent sociopath driven to a frenzy by the sense of my own power, I can't divulge the upcoming releases," he said. (Earlier in our chat, Topiary had brought up a March Gawker article that he said portrayed him and his crew as "arrogant sociopaths.")
After all this bluster, we asked if Topiary was worried at all about being caught. His response: "Worrying is for fools!"