Chicago man accused in international hacking bust
BY KIM JANSSEN, LAUREN FITZPATRICK, RUMMANA HUSSAIN AND DAN ROZEK Staff Reporters March 6, 2012 10:00AM
NOT HIS FIRST TIME
Jeremy Hammond’s record includes a conviction for burning a 2016 Olympics banner in Daley Plaza in 2009.
Updated: April 10, 2012 10:41AM
Jeremy Hammond has a gift.
By the time he was 9, he was programming video games.
By 21, he could “get inside the brain of a computer,” his attorney once wrote. His talents were comparable “to a comic book character’s superpower, like Superman’s x-ray vision,” the attorney said. “It is an incredible talent, and it must be used responsibly.”
Supporters of Hammond — now a lanky 27-year-old poster boy for anti-capitalist “hacktivists” — believe he has always done so.
But government sources say he used his powers as a “hub” for online evil.
Arrested Monday night in an FBI raid on his Bridgeport home, Hammond is accused of stealing confidential data from hundreds of thousands of people, including a former vice president of the United States and a former CIA director.
When he appeared before a Chicago judge in federal court Tuesday on charges including conspiracy to commit computer hacking, it was part of what authorities called the first significant prosecution of major Internet hackers.
Operating under online aliases including Anarchaos, yohoho and crediblethreat, Hammond worked with other members of the international underground Internet movement Anonymous and its offshoots LulzSec and AntiSec to hack Stratfor, a Texas security consulting company, the complaint says.
From a tiny apartment in the 2900 block of South Quinn, he allegedly helped steal the personal details of 860,000 Stratfor clients, including a former vice president and a former CIA director, whose names are redacted from the complaint. He also published the information for 60,000 credit cards users and used stolen credit card data to make charges of $700,000, the complaint alleges.
Hammond — an eccentric who for years sported dreadlocks and Dumpster-dived for free food — has served federal time before. His run-ins with the law include a conviction for burning a 2016 Olympics banner in Daley Plaza; a 2005 conviction for stealing credit card data from a conservative website; an arrest at the Republican National Convention in 2004; marijuana arrests in 2004 and 2010, and a 2009 arrest for violently disrupting a talk by a Holocaust denier.
The defection of one of world’s most-wanted computer vandals led to the arrests of Hammond and four other top hackers, authorities said Tuesday. New Yorker Hector Xavier Monsegur — a legendary figure known in the hacking underworld as “Sabu” — has pleaded guilty and is working with the FBI, authorities say.
As the ringleader of some of Anonymous’ most notorious deeds, Sabu formed an elite hacking organization last May — a spin-off of Anonymous — and named it “Lulz Security” or “LulzSec,” court papers say. He allegedly participated in attacks on Visa, MasterCard and PayPal; government computers in Tunisia, Algeria, Yemeni and Zimbabwe; Fox Broadcasting Co. and the Tribune Co.; PBS, and the U.S. Senate.
Hammond allegedly belonged to another Anonymous offshoot, AntiSec, which worked with LulzSec.
When asked during his court appearance Tuesday if he understood the charges against him, Hammond quietly said, “Yes, your honor.” If convicted, he faces up to 10 years behind bars. The case has been transferred to New York.
Raised in Glendale Heights with his twin brother, Jason, Hammond was programming at age 9 and was an obsessive reader of hacker guides in high school, according to a 2005 interview with the Chicago Reader.
By 17, he was working for an Apple computer-service specialist, his father later wrote in a letter to a judge.
After graduating from Glenbard East High School, he started HackThisSite.org, an online training camp for hackers, the Reader reported. In two years, the site got 2.5 million hits and 110,000 members, the Reader reported. Hammond studied for a year at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he upset professors by hacking the computer science department’s website to identify gaps in its security system, the Reader said.
He has a tattoo of Tic Tac Toe, court papers show — an apparent reference to the cult 1983 hacker movie “WarGames.”
His attorney described him in a 2006 court filing as having “some extreme opinions and thoughts” but said he had “used his social and political views for good.”
He prepared meals for the poor through a group called Food Not Bombs, volunteers with the Salvation Army, has built bicycles for charity, sends books to prisoners, plays in a rock band and helps people with relatives behind bars, according to court papers.
His boss at Rome & Company, where he was a Web developer, wrote in 2010 that he “is friendly, courteous and polite and while we suspect, he has a low tolerance for corporate posturing, he has never demonstrated any contempt for business in the workplace.”
A former girlfriend of Hammond’s told the Sun-Times that he had always meant well, but that his computer skills were a kind of curse. “He was always so into the hacking side that the message always became so negative and polarising,” she said. “It was hard to see how his actions would convince anyone to change their opinion about politics.”
The federal complaint paints a picture of just how uncompromising the hackers worldview is. After data from the Stratfor hack was posted online, a message from LulzSec and AntiSec called on “all armies of darkness, to use and abuse these password lists and credit card information to wreak unholy havoc upon the systems and personal email accounts of these rich and powerful oppressors,” it alleges.
The attack shut down Stratfor’s website for weeks and cost it at least $2 million, the complaint says.
Hammond allegedly later wrote that authorities are “mad because of the sheer amount of high profile people” he had hacked.
Neighbors in Bridgeport said that they enjoyed living near Hammond but long suspected something was up. Ten “regulars” came and went, Karen Roberts and Dave Homeyer said.
They’d sit on the stoop, playing music. Jeremy’s shoes rarely matched, his jeans were too short and his coat drowned his tall, skinny frame. “He looked like a circus clown,” Roberts said.
Hammond isn’t the only member of his family in legal trouble. His father, John Hammond, 55, was charged in January with sexually molesting a 14-year-old girl in his Glendale Heights home. He’s accused of molesting the teen while she was in his home for music lessons. John Hammond allegedly solicited a child through the Internet.
When the Chicago Sun-Times called a phone listed in Hammond’s twin brother’s name Tuesday, a man who answered demanded to know “where did you get this number?” “My name is Mickey Mouse and I don’t know who Jeremy or Jason Hammond are.”