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UK police say they nabbed LulzSec leader ‘Topiary,’ but are they wrong?

Posted at 28 July 2011 23:19 CEST by Justin_Massoud

For over two months the upstart hackers at LulzSec collectively laughed at online security as they wrought havoc upon site after site in a mad spree that counted government agencies, video game companies and law enforcement as victims. However, the joking could be over for at least one alleged member.

UK authorities apprehended the man whom they believe to be a key figure and spokesperson for the group – known in hacking circles by the alias “Topiary” – on Wednesday. But is he the genuine article?

The 19-year-old man was picked up at a home in the Shetland Islands according to a report from the International Business Times. Police followed up the arrest with a declaration that their quarry was quite possibly a LulzSec mastermind. “The man arrested is believed to be linked to an ongoing international investigation in to the criminal activity of the so-called ‘hacktivist’ groups Anonymous and LulzSec, and uses the online nickname ‘Topiary’ which is presented as the spokesperson for the groups,” said the police in a statement to the press.

Sophos’ Naked Security blog pointed out that Topiary’s Twitter account, once bustling, is now a ghost town. It offers just a single message: “You cannot arrest an idea.”

However, the notion that police are mistaken was broached by MSNBC in a report citing the LulzSec watchdog group “LulzSec Exposed” who say the man UK authorities arrested is not the real Topiary and that authorities were simply fooled.

Real Topiary or no, the arrest is just the latest in a recent global crackdown on hackers. Over a dozen suspected Anonymous members were apprehended across the U.S. this month, and a UK citizen with suspected ties to both Anonymous and LulzSec – 19-year-old Ryan Cleary – was pinched at his family’s home late last month. Dozens of other alleged hackers have been arrested in Italy, Turkey and Spain this year.

LulzSec has been a source of frustration for many people following its arrival on the scene. Prior to the group’s unique, anarchic style of cyber mayhem (it set up a hotline which followers could call and suggest targets), the biggest fear was an Anonymous DDoS attack – something the group would at least attempt to justify in a sharply-written message or video. Many hit by LulzSec were left wondering why. The answer was often a default “for the lulz.”

Even if police actually caught a leading member of LulzSec, it seems unlikely the group will quit; it’s currently in the midst of a new joint protest against PayPal. LulzSec had previously thrown in the towel, only to come roaring back to the scene weeks later with an attack on The Sun.

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