One in Four Hackers Works for the U.S. Government

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If you’re worried about being attacked by computer hackers, here’s a curious piece of information that might put your mind at ease: 25% of them are working for the FBI.

The Guardian newspaper has discovered that one in four hackers is an FBI informer as part of a recent investigation, with many forums where hackers sell illegally obtained information being run by either moles or undercover FBI agents.

Just like in mob movies, the informers are recruited with offers of reduced jail time and/or financial gain. With benefits such as these, why not flip?:

The informant to end all informants was Albert Gonzalez, Cumbajohnny as he was known in cyberspace, who was involved in hacking for many years and attended the Las Vegas Defcon in 2001. He was jailed after he was caught stealing from a cash machine in New York, which gave the secret service the leverage they needed to force him to work for them.

They had Gonzalez sprung from jail, and under the codename Operation Firewall helped him establish a closed network or VPN (virtual private network) for carders in which cyber criminals could trade stolen credit card details. It acted like a giant honey trap. A team of 15 agents monitored and recorded the activities of scores of top carders as they communicated with each other through the network.

For his pains, Gonzalez was paid a secret service salary of $75,000 a year.

Officially, the FBI will not comment on its methods, with a spokesperson saying only that agents follow guidelines set by the U.S. Attorney General on the use of informants, adding that each case is different. But if the aim of the Guardian making this information public was to sow seeds of even greater paranoia into the hacker community, thereby helping the Feds take advantage, it’s a job well done.