In September, the FBI arrested two alleged members of the group that hacked the CIA director. The group, Crackas With Attitude (CWA), also broke into accounts belonging to the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, a White House official, and also pulled data from other US government systems.
One of those alleged members, Justin Liverman, didn't actually do much of the hacking, according to an FBI affidavit. Instead, Liverman allegedly encouraged others to publish the social security number of a senior US government official, paid for a phone-bombing service to bombard a target device with calls, and more generally participated in the conspiracy.
Now the Courage Foundation, an activist group which has supported the likes of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, is trying to raise a defense fund for Liverman. Several noted hacking lawyers are also defending Liverman.
Courage's remit "is to protect truth-tellers," Courage's Naomi Colvin told Motherboard.
Liverman, who is suspected of using the Twitter handle @_d3f4ult, is charged with conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States. The evidence against him includes messages stored on his computer, Twitter direct messages with other alleged members of the group—such as its apparent leader Cracka—and IP log information.
In one conversation, Cracka was planning to SWAT a police department.
"ayyyyyyyy yolo fuck it," Liverman wrote, according to a chat log included in the affidavit.
"hopefully they will have a shootout and kill eachother," he added.
When the group did break into government accounts, much of it was done through social engineering: tricking the victim or organization in charge of the account to grant access to the hackers.
According to Colvin, CWA showed how in the US government "very sensitive information is vulnerable to really quite trivial attacks."
It should be noted though that CWA, at least according to their public statements and judging by the affidavit, did not explicitly say they were carrying out these hacks in order to highlight vulnerabilities in systems. Instead, when the group dumped information online, such as the contact details for tens of thousands of FBI and DHS employees, some members of the group paired the dumps with pro-Palestinian messages.
"I think that they didn't set out to do it is an arguable point, in some ways. But I think for our purposes it's the result which makes a difference and makes something worth supporting," Colvin added.
Criminal defense attorneys Jay Leiderman and Tor Ekeland, who are both well-known for their previous work with hacktivists, have officially subbed into Liverman's case, as well as Marina Medvin of Medvin Law.
"With our combined backgrounds, passions and experience, Jay, Tor and I have come together as a hacker dream team. We are sharing our roles and responsibilities to provide the most effective defense for our client," Medvin told Motherboard in an email.
As for what happens now, it depends if the parties enter into a plea agreement or not.
"We always plead not guilty unless and until there is a deal on the table that both sides are comfortable with. We have no idea when that would be. If we cannot come to an agreement, we will have a trial," Leiderman told Motherboard in an email.