The FBI has a legion of reformed hackers working to stop cybercriminals, a new report claims.
According to the Guardian, 25 percent of all the hackers in the U.S. are actually informants for the federal government. The reason for that, the U.K. publication reports, citing Eric Corley, the publisher of hacker quarterly 2600, is that hackers have become quite easy to break when they're faced with threats of long prison sentences for their alleged crimes. In fact, Corley told the Guardian that hackers "are rather susceptible to intimidation." So rather than face those long stretches in jail, they secretly provide information to the authorities.
That revelation comes at a time when hacking has become an increasingly worrisome issue for companies and individuals around the world. In April, Sony's PlayStation Network, Qriocity, and Online Entertainment services were breached, exposing the personal information of over 100 million customers, and hacker trouble continues to dog Sony. Famed hacking group Anonymous focused its efforts on Iran recently by exposing the e-mails of government officials. Google was forced to announce last week that the personal Gmail accounts of top U.S. government officials were targeted in a phishing attack.
All that action has made targeting--and turning--hackers an increasingly important goal of law enforcement. In fact, the Guardian is reporting that many turncoats are operating "marketplaces" where hackers typically exchange stolen personal information.
To bolster its efforts, the FBI also takes over forums and other hacker hangouts to catch cybercriminals, the Guardian is reporting.
The FBI was not immediately available for comment on the Guardian report.
The idea of hackers changing sides is nothing new. Kevin Mitnick, one of the best-known hackers, was arrested in 1995 on wire and computer fraud charges related to his hacking activities. After being released from prison in 2002, he became a security consultant, helping to fight those that were engaging the same activities he did.
Speaking with CNET in 2009, Mitnick offered a word of caution to today's hackers, saying that they should use their abilities to do good.
"Don't follow in my footsteps," Mitnick told budding hackers in the CNET interview. "There are definitely other roads or other opportunities and ways that people can learn and educate themselves about hacking, security, and pen testing. Today it's a huge market. It's become a huge issue within the federal government with critical infrastructure.
"Don't break the law," he continued. "Don't intrude on other peoples' property. It's just the wrong thing to do. It's unethical and immoral."