Thomas Ryan, the independent security consultant who released a trove of e-mail communications from the Occupy Wall Street protesters, said he has been the target of numerous hacks and has received death threats after revealing information on the protestors plans to authorities.
In a conversation with Threatpost on Monday, Ryan, who is a managing partner at the New York-based security consultancy Provide Security, said that he has been forced to delete his social media accounts to fend of attempts by hackers to compromise them, and faced attacks and threats of violence from those sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement and the group.
Ryan alleges that Anonymous, the amorphous hacking collective linked to attacks on Sony, the security firm HBGary and others, is fomenting the Occupy Wall Street protests, not merely defending them.
“What needs to be brought to peoples attention is that this isn’t about politics. Its a social game,” said Ryan. Anonymous, he claims, is acting from behind the scenes, and is using “social media, social engineering and lots of counter intelligence” to further the protests and garner them attention.
Ryan came to the attention of Anonymous and the media after he published an archive of communications culled from a Google news group called September17. The Google group was used by OWS protesters to coordinate their activities. That archive accidentally included e-mails from Ryan to law enforcement – both the FBI and the New York Police Department – as well as security officials at organizations that were potential targets of protesters.
The published archive was picked up by conservative gadfly Andrew Bretibart, a vocal critic of the OWS protests, who encouraged his followers to dig into the e-mail messages for information to discredit the OWS protests. Breitbart’s interest, in turn, attracted the attention of media outlets like Gawker. who portrayed Ryan as a “right wing rabble-rouser” engaged in a smear campaign.
In a conversation with Threatpost, Ryan countered claims that he had donned a black hat to spy on OWS. He gained access to the September17 list merely by adding his email to a paper sign up sheet that was being distributed at an early organizing meeting by what would become the OWS. He said he was merely an observer of the group and portrayed the protests, which have spread to other cities in the U.S. and Europe as propelled by shadowy forces working behind the scenes. Those include unions, liberal activists and media outlets (he named Gawker) sympathetic to their cause. Anonymous, though its leadership may be small, has an outsize influence in promoting the cause online, he said.
After watching the travails of HBGary Federal CEO Aaron Barr, Ryan said he expected to be attacked. (In an ironic twist, Barr and Ryan are friends and professional acquaintances who have been communicating via Twitter and e-mail throughout.)
Ryan said he was surprised at the speed with which events began to move once Breitbart and Gawker picked up the story. Portrayed as a “snitch” working against the generally popular OWS protests, Ryan and his firm became targets of online hackitivists, including those affiliated with Anonymous. Ryan said unknown assailants tried to hack his phone and personal blog – the latter using a Blogger API exploit. He was forced to close down his social media accounts after it became clear that they were being targeted by those who wished to do “reputational” damage to him.
Though he claimed to have documents identifying Anonymous’s leadership that he would release if he were attacked, Ryan has so far refrained from doing so. Asked why, he said that the attacks against him were limited to online actions, versus physical attacks, and that mere “trolling” didn’t rise to the level that would prompt him to release the information he had.
Still, Ryan said he has received e-mail death threats since revealing the September17 group’s e-mail messages. He shared two of the threatening e-mail messages with Threatpost.
The role of Anonymous in the OWS protests is a matter of much speculation. As this report from Fastcompany makes clear, the online hacker collective has been closely involved with promoting both the OWS protests and similar anti-establishment protests that preceded them. Beyond promoting the OWS message online through their use of social media like Twitter and YouTube, however, it doesn’t appear that any close collaboration between the group and OWS’s informal leadership on the ground.