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Foreign "spy masters" could infiltrate hacker groups


By Stewart Mitchell

Posted on 25 Jul 2011 at 09:00

Foreign powers could try to infiltrate hacktivist networks in order to manipulate their actions, according to a security expert who advises governments and businesses on internet issues.

The warning comes as governments and corporations - including defence manufacturers - come under widespread attack from hacker groups such as LulzSec and Anonymous, and amid growing fears about cyber espionage from sovereign powers, especially China.

Likening the emergence of the hacktivist movement to the arrival of militant groups such as the Red Brigade during the 1970s, government advisor and chair of the International E-crime Congress, Simon Moores, said that hacker groups could eventually be swayed by outside influences.

You could have the teenaged hacker who thinks they’re doing something for the greater good by revealing information or attacking greedy billionaires, but in fact they are being manipulated for more sinister purposes

“If you have a LulzSec or an Anonymous that is perhaps being manipulated by a foreign actor, it takes us back to the days of the Stasi and the KGB, which were manipulating [anti-nulear campaign group] CND quite easily from Moscow,” he said, referring to reports that the anti-nuclear peace movement was unwittingly compromised and manipulated by Kremlin machinations.

According to Moores, mustering popular support for an issue through online hacktivist groups and forums could be used as a tool to drive policy to perform actions that furthered a country's interests.

And because the hacker groups are distributed, anonymous and at least in part consist of ideologists – as shown with hacks against financial institutions when they blocked payments to WikiLeaks – Moores believed they were especially vulnerable to interference from outside sources.

“So you could have the teenaged hacker who thinks they’re doing something for the greater good by revealing information or attacking greedy billionaires, but in fact they are being manipulated for more sinister purposes by someone who has infiltrated their network,” he said. “If you were a spy master wouldn’t you be doing that?”

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User comments

Is Michael Stipe a hacker?

If not, why is there a photo of him looking at a computer screen accompanying this news story? >;-)

By happygeek on 25 Jul 2011


Only a banana republic would "infiltrate". Please do some analysis before dumping this propaganda on us.

By ANONYMOUS1312 on 25 Jul 2011

Some of us have been saying this for a while!

And seeing as how all these hackers seem to be mentally disabled (or at least that's the common getout clause when they're arrested and the US tries to extradite them), perhaps they are more vulnerable to these approaches.

By TheHonestTruth on 25 Jul 2011

@happygeek, I'm concerned about his proximity to the monitor, that's far too close. I like to think of the film Swordfish as a fly-on-the-wall glimpse into the life of a hacker, and in some scenes I can certainly see the appeal! Perhaps other activities are occurring outwith the frame of the photo? Either way Michael is risking blindness if he continues on this path ...

By paulgspence on 25 Jul 2011


This misses a basic point, which is that in order to infiltrate agents would have to profess and act on the ideals, values and public goals of the organisations they're infiltrating, so they'd make no effective difference.

The CND example is telling in that regard - whether it was infiltrated or not, it did what it said on the tin - campaigned for nuclear disarmament.

The national security expert's fears of foreign interference amount to a bizarre fear of pollution or contamination - 'omg, there's a gru agent in Lulzsec, ergo they are a tool of the russian state'.

This is magical thinking, arguing that the hacker groups are contaminated on and by contact as such.

They could be steered of course, but only if agents intervened in the internal discourse of the organisation, and with any ideological group you'd find there are core organising principles that prove remarkably sticky. Infiltrating agents end up acting for those ends, often more diligently and competently than ordinary members.

Of course there's the possibility of agent provocateur type actions, but those would be to destroy the group, not use it as a foreign policy tool. And groups can police and defend themselves from such internal sabotage, albeit imperfectly.

This is more about attempting to negate radical, ideological groups by conceptually reducing them to cynical instruments of foreign puppetmasters in the shadows - hardly a new tactic, the idea that Lenin worked for the Kaiser is still trotted out - which as a rhetorical strategy veers dangerously close to the paranoid style.

It's also to get a hold some of the national security funding pie by constructing a new vector for geopolitical threats (no different from endless pentagon satellite thinktanks spinning tales about space militarisation).

By boboon on 25 Jul 2011

Most likely not

It's not likely since the KGB hasn't existing since 1991.

Though the Russian FSB might be able to infiltrate. Though just as likely as the FBI, NSA, SS, MI5, Mossad or any other government spy agency.

They'll all have to deal with the equivalent of herding cats.

Also, I'm sure everyone has already seen the news video about Soviet and Chinese spies already hacking the US power grid? Or Russians owning most of the US steel industry? Who knows what other nefarious things governments are doing to each other already. Why even bother infiltrating Lulzsec? If they want the cover they can do stuff and blame it on them already.

By Testing_McTesterton on 25 Jul 2011

This just doesn't make sense...

let's take Lulzsec as an example.
Their 'power' comes from two places:
1- The knowledge and skill of a small group of people.
2 - The might and clout that comes with having a botnet or getting people to join in a DDOS attack. [this is what the person in the UK got caught doing]

So, if "foreign spy masters" have people with the skills to get in with a group like lulzsec, why don't they just get their own botnet and do what ever they want to do?
That's all lulzsec are. just a few people with the right knowledge and a botnet, anything they can do can be done by anybody with the same knowledge and resources.

If on the other hand they are talking about "anonymous" for example, then that's just laughable, anybody is free to join "anonymous" (you don't need to be a spy to get yourself into "anonymous") but the idea of anybody being able to sway the anarchic cross-hairs of anonymous onto a target of their choice is just absurd, it shows that the people who come up with this stuff don't know what they are talking about.

Tis a great piece of general 'anti-hacking' propaganda though, I'm sure it will help slip through a good few crazy unhelpful laws that can be misinterpreted.

By Anonymouse on 26 Jul 2011

Spot on, boboon

I would say the idea of discrediting any idealistic groups and trying to get hold of security funding just about sums the whole reasoning behind this story.

I was one of those in the CND in the eighties - I certainly didn't see any KGB funds head my way... I rather think that was much the same sort of rumour all too readily reported by 'newspapers' (I use the term in it's widest possible context) such as the Sun & Daily Mail. It'd be interesting to find out what their sources were - or if they actually had any, for that matter.

By greemble on 26 Jul 2011

sounds like the kind of advice

HBGary was handing out to US government officials and politicians. As it turned out, HBGary was the company in need of Internet security advice. As they found out when their e-mails got published, complete with embarrassing content.

By alizard on 28 Jul 2011

All hackers are muslims.

Just say that in your spurious article, then I think everyone will agree that hackers are evil, anti corporate bastards and should be wiped out by any means necessary.

By dodge1963 on 29 Jul 2011

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