Ex-LulzSec hacker Hector Monsegur talks family, FBI work

The notorious computer hacker and FBI informant is telling his side of the story. Join us for a discussion of his beginnings, his rise to power in the hacking community and his ultimate downfall.

Tim Stevens Former editor at large for CNET Cars
Tim Stevens got his start writing professionally while still in school in the mid '90s, and since then has covered topics ranging from business process management to video game development to automotive technology.
Tim Stevens
3 min read

Watch this: Hector Monsegur interview part 1: Sabu speaks about his early days of hacking

The character of Hector Monsegur, a former LulzSec hacker who went by the nom de guerre "Sabu," is a complicated one.

Here's a boy who grew up in poverty, many members of his immediate family serving time in jail. Here's a kid who found an outlet in the Hacker Manifesto. Here's a father who adopted and raised two girls after their mother, his aunt, was arrested. Here's an activist who helped provoke the repressive Tunisian government. Here's a villain who, in the eyes of many, betrayed his friends to protect himself when the FBI came knocking.

Shakespeare it ain't, but it is an interesting tale. After years of underground online activity and thousands of hacks, FBI agents presented Monsegur with a long list of charges against him, including some 12 counts of hacking and related fraud. However, the agents also presented a greater threat: to take away the two girls he was fostering and hand them to protective services. This and only this, says Monsegur, led to his becoming an FBI informant.

Watch this: Hector Monsegur interview part 2: Operation Tunisia and serious hacks

Between June 2011 and March 2012, Monsegur would publicly maintain his role as one of the world's most prominent hackers and general haters of the establishment. In fact, as the days counted down and his work with the FBI was about to be revealed, he grew even more vocal, saying things like "without informants or subpoenas the feds would be lost." He also said "CIA wouldn't hire me and the feds I think would love just to throw me under a prison somewhere. I'm useless to them."

Actually, he was pretty useful. According to the FBI, the man behind Sabu helped stop some 300 hacks against government websites. Information obtained by agents watching Monsegur's every move through 2011 and early 2012 also led to the arrest of numerous suspected international hackers, including activist Jeremy Hammond, who is currently serving a 10-year sentence for his role in the Strafor email leak. Hammond maintains that Monsegur, under FBI direction, provided both the encouragement and the tools for the attack. Monsegur, for his part, denies any acts of entrapment.

Watch this: Hector Monsegur interview part 3: Sony's hack and Sabu's next steps

Monsegur's cooperation with the FBI was so effective that, at his sentencing, federal prosecutors took the unusual step of detailing just how helpful he was. He was released after having served seven months in prison and would face only a year of probation rather than the possible decades of incarceration.

These days, Monsegur maintains that he does not have a PC and is making minimal use of the Internet -- he is allowed, but he's concerned the actions of others might be blamed on him. Better just to steer clear. Still, he has plenty of opinions about the current state things. He believes the most recent Sony hack, for example, is simply a continuation of the many attacks against the corporation. "Sony has been compromised for at least six years that I know of," he said. "The people who are complaining to be GOP or whatever, are the people that owned Sony way back when... This is not a new hack."

As to what comes next, Monsegur says those seven months behind bars exposed him to a new passion: teaching. "I feel like I want to help people in general with understanding privacy." The former Sabu hopes to educate others about who they can trust and how they can protect themselves in a world increasingly full of scams, traps and phishing attacks. That sort of knowledge is a valuable thing, and it's certainly hard to imagine a better teacher.

For more of Hector Monsegur's story, please check out Charlie Rose's full interview.