A man who first got into computer hacking when he was still in school has explained what it was like to work with infamous hacktivist group Anonymous.
Mustafa Al-Bassam, who was once a member of Anonymous and is one of the founders of LulzSec, got his first taste for computer programming when he was just nine years old, and completed his first hack while using an online calculator to do his maths homework.
After putting a code into the calculator and managing to hack the entire website, he learned that ‘very simply programming mistakes could do a lot of damage and allow a hacker to get in’.
It escalated from there, when Mustafa hacked into his school’s website and uncovered all of his teachers’ salaries and his classmates’ grades.
Eventually, through online activist forums, he found himself becoming a member of the infamous international movement Anonymous, known for their cyber attacks against governments, agencies, and corporations.
One of Mustafa’s first attacks alongside Anonymous was to hack the Prime Minister of Tunisia, when both Tunisia and Egypt were in the midst of a revolution.
“We replaced his front page with a message to support the revolution,” he recalled.
Mustafa explained that the aim of Anonymous ‘wasn’t to show that we were master hackers, but that the companies we were hacking had very poor security.’
In one instance, he recalled hacking a tech security company called HBGary Federal, who had claimed to know the identity of Anonymous’s leaders.
“The CEO was using the same password for his email account, his PayPal account, his World of Warcraft account, and pretty much every single account. So we managed to get access to his entire online life.”
“When we hacked HBGary Federal’s emails, it was exposed that they were up to a lot of no good.
“One of the things that they were trying to do was blackmail American journalists that supported WikiLeaks. That’s when I realised that information can give people a lot of power, or can change the world.”
The CEO at the time, Aaron Barr, resigned three weeks after the hacking scandal.
After setting up LulzSec – a sort of sister company to Anonymous that would hack companies with no political motive – Mustafa hacked Fox, The Sun, the FBI, the Arizona Police Department, and the US Senate – all around the age of 16.
While still aged 16, Mustafa was arrested by London’s Met Police for 80 different cyber attacks.
“I wasn’t really scared, I was more p***ed off,” he remembered.
Because he was under 18, Mustafa was given a non-custodial sentence.
In the end, he was given a 20-month suspended sentence, 320 hours of unpaid community service, and a two-year internet ban.