The months-long series of hacks and pranks by a group of alleged teenage hackers on the US government and its high-level officials might have finally come to an end.
Police authorities in the UK, working in conjunction with the FBI, have arrested a teenager who they believe is behind the cyberattacks that started last year, when a group of hackers broke into the AOL email account of CIA Director John Brennan. Officials have not released the identity of arrested teenager, but he is suspected of being the hacker known as “Cracka,” the leader of a hacktivist group called “Crackas With Attitude.”
The National Crime Agency—essentially the UK’s FBI—directed Motherboard to the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit (SEROCU), which is headed by Thames Valley Police.
In a statement, the SEROCU confirmed that it had “arrested a 16-year-old boy Tuesday (9/2) in the East Midlands on suspicion of conspiracy to commit Unauthorised access to computer material contrary to Section 1 Computer Misuse Act 1990, conspiracy to commit unauthorised access with intent to commit further offences contrary to Section 2 Computer Misuse Act 1990 and conspiracy to commit unauthorised acts with intent to impair, or with recklessness as to impairing operation of a computer contrary to Section 3 Computer Misuse Act 1990.” The unit would not provide any further information.
On Wednesday night, Motherboard spoke to the teenager accused of being Cracka. “I got fucking v&,” he told Motherboard, using “v&,” the slang for “vanned,” or getting arrested. (At this point, the arrest had not been made public.) “They’re trying to ruin my life.”
“I got fucking v& [...] They’re trying to ruin my life.”
The teenager said authorities arrested him on Tuesday, and are accusing him of the attacks on Brennan, White House officials, and the recent hack on the Department of Justice, which resulted in the publication of the names and contact information almost 30,000 FBI and DHS employees.
The alleged hacker, who declined to reveal his real name, said he refused to answer any questions from the police, and was subsequently released on bail after spending 7 hours in a cell. He also denied being Cracka, saying “I’m not who you think I am ;) ;) ;)”
“I’m innocent until proven guilty so I have nothing to be worried about,” he said, adding that the authorities seized this electronic devices, but he could still use the internet from a relative’s device.
Crackas With Attitude, or CWA, first gained notoriety when they hacked into Brennan’s email, leaking a series of documents to WikiLeaks at the end of October last year. At the time, Cracka told Motherboard that it was so easy to hack Brennan that “a 5-year old” could have done it. He also said he didn’t want to go to jail.
That was just the first in a long series of brazen hacks, which the hackers bragged about publicly on Twitter. The hackers always claimed their actions were all done to support the plight of the Palestinian people, a sentiment they often summed up with the simple hashtag #FreePalestine.
The group then targeted other high-level officials, including FBI’s executive assistant Amy Hess, US spy chief James Clapper, a former senior executive at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and President Barack Obama’s senior advisor on science and technology John Holdren, among others.
The hackers, who claimed to be all teenagers, normally hit low-hanging targets, such as the victim’s internet service provider accounts using social engineering techniques. But in early November, the hackers claimed to have gained access to a series of sensitive law enforcement portals, where they allegedly found a database of government employees. In the following days, the posted around 4,000 of those names online, potentially exposing undercover agents.
“I’m innocent until proven guilty so I have nothing to be worried about.”
Earlier this week, an anonymous hacker, who appeared to share the same motives and associates of the hacker known as Cracka, published the names, phone numbers and emails of more than 20,000 FBI agents and 9,000 DHS officers. At the time, the hacker did not identify himself, but in a chat through his Twitter account @DotGovs, claimed not to be Cracka. Several hackers who know him, however, told Motherboard that the hacker was indeed Cracka, but he simply didn’t want this particular hack to be tied to his nickname.
“Cracka was DotGovs he just didn't want to draw attention to himself,” a hacker who used to be part of CWA told Motherboard.
The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and neither did the Department of Justice. The FBI has been trying to remove the most recent batch of hacked data from websites hosting it, by sending at least one takedown request.
Cracka could not be reached on Thursday. When last contacted, Motherboard asked him if he had something to say when news of his arrest would be made public.
He quickly and simply answered: “FreePalestine.”
This story has been corrected. A SEROCU spokesperson said the hacker is 16, and not 15 as the police had initially reported.