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MAY 13--In an effort to identify leaders of Anonymous, the FBI arrested an


autistic New York man and then used him as a cooperating witness to help snare
a notorious fellow hacker who was subsequently indicted for his central role in a
series of high-profile online attacks, The Smoking Gun has learned.
In return for the hackers cooperation--and in light of his autism--Department of
Justice officials initially agreed to defer prosecution on a criminal complaint
charging the man with hacking Gawker Media, an illegal incursion that yielded
registration information for more than a million individuals who signed up with the
popular blog network.
Federal prosecutors eventually dropped the hacking charge altogether, according
to court records that were kept under seal long after the hackers arrest by a
team of FBI agents. Investigators were concerned that if the mans cooperation
became public, he would be harassed by hackers then being targeted by the FBI.
Additionally, disclosure of his cooperation, prosecutors contended, would
jeopardize substantial ongoing investigations
into the defendants former co-conspirators,
many of whom are suspected of carrying out
substantial computer hacks against several
businesses.
So, to help ensure the defendants safety,
Thomas Eekdacat Madden became, for a
time, John Doe.
The 26-year-old Madden, whose cooperation
has not been previously disclosed, lives with
his parents in Troy, a city 10 minutes outside
Albany. An only child, Madden graduated in December 2010 from Rensselaer
Polytechnic Institute, where he completed a double major in computer science
and mathematics, according to school records.
Madden grew up in New Jersey, but moved with his family to upstate New York
months before beginning his studies at RPI, which is regarded as one of the
countrys premier engineering and technological research universities. The
Madden familys relocation to Troy--where RPIs campus is located--was
prompted by Thomass need for support during college. In an interview, Kenneth
Madden told of driving his son to class, adding that while Thomas was high-
functioning, he was severely autistic and could not live on his own at the
university.
Madden said that his sons autism diagnosis goes back to nursery school and
that Thomas has struggled with sound issues, loud noise, the eye contact.
While acknowledging his sons brilliance with computers and math, Madden
referred to both ends of the spectrum, saying that his sons condition is a gift
and a tragedy and a blessing. He added, If you ever saw the movie Rainman,
its like that.
Madden Sealing Order
Madden Complaint
Financial Affidavit
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Charge dropped after man, 26, cooperated
During a recent phone conversation, Thomas Madden declined to speak about
computer hacking, saying that he has had no contact with those people since
his arrest. In halting speech, he politely refused to address other topics, noting
that a reporters questions were getting
into extra-legal territory. Though he
previously told FBI agents about his
affiliation with certain hacking groups,
Madden denied such connections to TSG.
When asked if prosecutors had
mischaracterized him in court filings,
Madden replied, Evidently.
The governments efforts to shroud
Maddens identity--as well as his
cooperation--were an unqualified success.
Maddens name does not appear in the
blizzard of stories about criminal probes into the members of Anonymous and its
various splinter groups like Internet Feds or Lulzsec.
In fact, Gawker itself seems unaware that the FBI actually arrested someone in
connection with the theft of its source code, databases, and confidential records.
That online incursion--reportedly prompted by Gawkers arrogance--was a
publicity coup for Madden and his cohorts. over 1 million people got
compromised because of me, he boasted during a chat with an online
acquaintance. He later crowed, I feel a bit better today cause I got the attention
of the entire western world lol.
Other chat transcripts show Madden referring to a stolen file containing the
grades of thousands of students. While he was only seeking the records of three
specific pupils, he noted, this warrants the theft of 11,000. He also wrote that he
did not deface sites he had breached. Instead, he preferred to maintain discreet
access to the compromised destinations so he could farm them for weeks.
News reports make it appear that the sole informant used by the FBI to help
target top hacking groups was Hector Monsegur, 30, who was flipped by agents
following his arrest in early-June 2011. Monsegur, a veteran and wily hacker, is
scheduled to be sentenced later this month on a variety of federal felony charges.
Known as Sabu, Monsegur is reviled online, where so-called hacktivists have
savaged him as a manipulative traitor who, when caught, sought comfort in the
FBIs arms.
While Madden was busted three weeks after Monsegur (seen below) began
cooperating with federal investigators, his June 2011 collar was not connected to
the older hackers work with FBI agents. Chat transcripts, interviews, and court
records--some of which remain under judicial seal--
offer a detailed account of how Madden was snared
by FBI agents following a falling-out with an online
acquaintance.
Madden got his degree from RPI in December
2010, the same month that Gawker was victimized
by Gnosis, a hacking group that congregated in a
private online chat room. During debriefings
following his arrest, Madden told FBI agents that
he was a member of Gnosis and other online
groups, including Patriotic Nigras, a band of
griefers who caused havoc on Second Life, the
online virtual world.
He eventually graduated to computer intrusions involving the theft of large
amounts of data, unauthorized accesses that were aided by password cracking
and network security scanner programs. During a chat months before the Gawker
hack, Madden declared, we run one of the largest data mining operations on the
net just with passwords, google of hacking.
As detailed in the criminal complaint filed against him, Madden chatted openly
about his illegal online exploits with an acquaintance with whom he had
exchanged messages for several years. Madden, according to the FBI, copped to
the Gawker hack as well as other unauthorized intrusions of protected computer
networks during chats with the acquaintance, whom agents described as a
college student in New York.
Madden told his online friend about Gawkers weak security, remarking that the
blog networks encryption was over 10 years old I forget their OS was like 9
updates behind big updates. As for his accomplices, Madden said that
someone big was involved, but that, I dont know any of these people beyond
their handles and countries. Referring to a Gnosis statement taking credit for the
Gawker hack, Madden wrote, haha I wrote that line the other day.
The collegian with whom Madden corresponded apparently was a young woman,
according to Kenneth Madden, who added that his son helped the student with
Search Warrant #1
Search Warrant #2
Madden Deferral
mathematics and then ended up getting fooled into doing the homework for the
person. And tests and online things like that. Madden remarked that his son
can be fooled or tricked
easily.
At some point, however, Madden realized he had been duped by the other
student. So he opened a Yahoo account in a fake name and sent an e-mail to
one of the other students teachers. He let the persons professor know that that
person was cheating, recalled Kenneth Madden.
Though he had shared details of his own criminality with the other student,
Madden apparently did not foresee the possible repercussions of accusing the
acquaintance of being an academic cheat.
The blowback came in the form of a criminal investigation triggered when the
other student--chat transcripts in hand--contacted FBI agents in New York City
about Maddens role in the Gawker hack. The subsequent bureau probe, headed
by Agent Olivia Olson, used an assortment of subpoenas, as well as motor
vehicle and passport records to identify Madden as the hacker Eekdacat.
At 6:15 AM on June 29, 2011, Olson and other FBI agents searched Maddens
Troy home, and arrested him for the Gawker hack. The investigators seized all
computer equipment in the residence and transported Madden to the bureaus
Manhattan office for questioning. Unaware of what their son was doing online,
Maddens parents were shocked by the nature of the FBIs allegations. They
explained what occurred, recalled Kenneth Madden, who said he was not
knowledgeable enough about the online world to have monitored his sons
activities.
It was during FBI debriefings that Madden--who was not yet represented by an
attorney--confessed to involvement in the Gawker breach, which he said was
accomplished by a crew headed by a hacker known as Kayla. Madden said that
Kayla provided him with the stolen database of over one million usernames and
encrypted passwords and tasked him with decrypting the Gawker passwords.
Madden reported that he succeeded in
cracking about 180,000 passwords.
Madden told of communicating with Kayla
intermittently over the prior year via instant
messages and in an online forum. He also
provided agents with his fellow hackers e-
mail address, Twitter handle, and other
contact information. It appears Kayla was
the someone big to whom Madden referred
when previously chatting about the Gawker
hack.
At the time of Maddens arrest, agents were already investigating Kayla, who
was a Monsegur sidekick suspected of involvement in hacks that had victimized
Fox Broadcasting, Sony Pictures, the Public Broadcasting Service, and other
high profile corporate targets. Kayla, who claimed to be a teenage girl, was
affiliated with several hacker groups, including Lulzsec, which disbanded on June
26, 2011 after a 50-day spree of hacking, defacement, and denial of service
attacks.
Following his FBI debriefing--and nearly 12 hours after his arrest--Madden made
an initial appearance in a closed federal courtroom in lower Manhattan. A U.S.
District Court magistrate released Madden on a $100,000 bond secured by his
father, and ordered that his Internet access would only be via an FBI monitored
laptop.
When it came time for Madden to file a financial affidavit in support of his request
for a court-appointed lawyer, he described himself as single, unemployed, and
having no income. In a shaky scrawl, he signed the document John Doe.
In a post-arrest court filing, federal prosecutor Rosemary Nidiry reported that
Madden actively is cooperating with the Government and has indicated an intent
to continue working proactively with the Government. Madden, Nidiry said,
provided investigators with detailed information about hacking suspects, adding
that he could testify before a grand jury for purposes of obtaining an indictment
against the defendants accomplices and
other individuals identified by the
defendant.
Following Maddens arrest, his lawyer
requested a court-ordered mental
competency exam for the hacker. As
detailed in an FBI affidavit, that evaluation
found that Madden has a form of autism
which can affect his social interaction
and judgment, among other things. But
Agent Olson added that Madden
appeared to be highly-functioning in other
areas, including the ability to recall
information. Madden, the investigator
declared, was credible and his information had been corroborated.
So agents used Madden as the sole confidential witness in a series of search
warrant and pen register applications targeting e-mail and Twitter accounts used
by Kayla. In the sealed U.S. District Court filings, Madden is not identified by
name, instead he is referred to as CW-1 or CW-2. In sworn affidavits drafted a
week after Maddens arrest, Olson reported that the hacker has attempted to
cooperate with law enforcement in the hopes of reducing [his] sentencing
liability.
The warrants secured with the help of Madden proved key to law enforcements
ability to identify the mysterious Kayla, the purported teen girl whose e-mails
were filled with smiley faces (and whose security obsession and hacking exploits
were legendary).
When agents first examined logs showing where the various accounts had been
accessed from, it was clear that Kayla was using proxies to hide her true
location, a standard hacker tactic. Hotmail and Twitter records showed that the
respective accounts were accessed from a constantly changing stream of IP
addresses that traced back to countries around the world.
But a close analysis of the IP records revealed that the master hacker had
somehow slipped up.
Since the recurrence of an individual IP address is unlikely with the use of a
randomizing proxy, FBI agents alerted to a particular IP address that appeared
three separate times in the documents. The address, which tracked to the United
Kingdom, was used to access Kaylas e-mail
account in December 2009 and March 2011.
The same IP address also accessed the
hackers Twitter account (@lolspoon) in June
2011.
The FBI provided the suspect IP address to
British investigators, who tracked it to a home
in the town of Doncaster in South Yorkshire.
Following a period of surveillance and
simultaneous monitoring of posts to the Kayla
Twitter account, investigators burst into the
residence and arrested Ryan Ackroyd, a former
British soldier and Iraq War veteran. Ackroyd
(seen at right) had borrowed his online handle
from his sister, whose name was pronounced
like Kayla in that region of the United
Kingdom, noted Agent Olson.
Ackroyd, now 27, was initially charged in Britain with launching hacking and
denial of service attacks on UK targets that included the National Health Service
and the countrys Serious Organised Crime Agency. He was aided in these illegal
endeavors by several other British citizens who were fellow Lulzsec members.
Ackroyd pleaded guilty last year to the hacking campaign, for which he was
sentenced to 30 months in prison.
In addition to the British case, Ackroyd and three codefendants (one Brit and two
Irish citizens) were indicted in 2012 by a New York federal grand jury. The quartet
was accused of carrying out a series of cyber attacks under the banners of
Anonymous, Internet Feds, and Lulzsec. The Gawker intrusion, though, was not
included among the alleged crimes cited in the two-count indictment. So
Madden--who did not testify before the grand jury that indicted Ackroyd--remains
the only hacker to have been arrested for that illegal operation.
When asked if federal prosecutors would eventually seek to have the imprisoned
Ackroyd and his codefendants extradited to face the felony charges, a
spokesperson for the U.S. Attorneys Office in Manhattan would only say that
these cases are pending.
Two months after Ackroyds indictment, a thorough investigation by Justice
Department officials concluded that the interests of the United States and
Madden would best be served by deferring prosecution of the hackers criminal
case. In November 2012, prosecutors formally dismissed the hacking charge
against Madden, who, during the prior six months, stayed out of trouble and
complied with terms stipulated in the deferred prosecution agreement struck with
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government lawyers.
While Madden no longer faces any governmental restrictions on his Internet
usage, he has maintained a low profile since prosecutors dropped the computer
hacking case against him. He does not seem to have posted to his Twitter
account (@NotEekdacat) since the day of his arrest.
Before the FBI banged on his door that morning, Madden sent a RETRACTION
REQUEST tweet to a hacker news web site that had listed Eekdacat among
the Lulzsec hacking team. have NEVER been a member of op
payback/anonops/lulzsec, nor part of gawker attack, Madden declared. (28
pages)
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