It's now a well-worn adage that online, each of us can be anyone. You recognise an individual by their typed words and actions. It's possible to get to know someone very personally indeed, and yet know virtually nothing about their daily lives. Where do they work? What city do they live in? How do they move through the physical world?
We reported earlier this week on arrests of prominent LulzSec figures. Those arrests were brought about when their leader, Sabu, was caught and became a cooperating witness for the FBI. Hector Xavier Monsegur, of New York, is now thoroughly unmasked as the once-mysterious Sabu.
Under Monsegur's tenure, LulzSec was very busy causing trouble for a few years, targeting BioWare, Microsoft, and Sony, among many others. But what was Monsegur doing with the rest of his life while directing digital mayhem from his PC?
Mostly, it turns out, he was being an absolutely wretched neighbour and a petty criminal.
The FBI reportedly called Monsegur, an unemployed father of two, "brilliant but lazy". The New York Times profiled Monsegur, beginning with his tumultuous childhood and explaining how he became Sabu:
[H]e said that he became a hacktivist when he was 16. He said he became disturbed that the Navy was using Vieques Island in Puerto Rico as a bombing range for exercises, and that he helped disrupt communications. In 2010, he said in the interview, he was drawn to Anonymous, a leaderless, antiauthoritarian movement that has taken up a variety of political causes. The catalyst, he said, was his outrage over the arrest of Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, the whistle-blower site.
In particular, he became a leader of a splinter group, Lulz Security, or LulzSec, which claimed to attack computer security companies for laughs, or lulz, rather than for financial gain.
Describing himself, he said in the interview, "I'm not some cape-wearing hero, nor am I some supervillain trying to bring down the good guys. I'm just doing what I know how to do, and that is counter abuse." For his online handle he chose Sabu, adopted from a former professional wrestler.
However, the details of his life stand out sharply in contrast to this romantic attitude. The Times reports that he was known to pay bills using stolen credit card numbers and that at one time he hacked into an auto parts company and had them send him over $US3000 worth of parts. Further in contrast to the stereotype of the quiet, basement-dwelling hacker, Monsegur was a notorious partier who drove his neighbours crazy.
Sister site Gizmodo obtained a report sent to the community board responsible for overseeing the public housing development where Monsegur lived (in apartment 6F):
For aproximately two years the neighbours in Apt 6F have been making excessive noise during the evening between the hours of 7pm until about 4am. They engaged in wrestling on the floor, pounding, rapping and screaming to loud music. Not to mention chasing a pitbull around the apartment. Furthermore, there are two young girls in the apt who are awake late in the evening running back and forth around the apt.
There are numerous individuals who frequent the above mentioned apt. contributing to the level of noise. I have tried to reason with the primary tenant, Hector Monsegur, only to be told you're bugging... get the f..k out of here I am often wakened in the wee hours of the morning to the chaos, I tap on the ceiling with a broom for them to cease the nonsense only to have all parties involved stomp their feet simultaneously and laugh.
While online and offline personas don't always overlap, it seems that Monsegur was happy to cause trouble for those around him in both his physical and digital spaces.
Hacker, Informant and Party Boy of the Projects [New York Times]
Image: New York Times.