The venerable Rothman has started a fire (see what I did there?) talking about truth and (dis)information.
I normally don’t dwell on hacker or criminal or even hacktivist groups very much (I prefer to keep my head down), but I’m not surprised at all about the current state of affairs that Rothman speaks of, for two very broad reasons.
First, there’s distrust amongst criminals. Let’s be clear: there are two broad types of hacker groups, those that break laws and those that are really just nuisances. Sort of like home thieves vs. train car graffitti vandals. Once you start breaking laws, you get into a whole new game where you are collectively wanted people with penalties over your heads. And not everyone will have the same fortitude and acceptance of those risks. This makes actual criminal groups very unstable and distrusting amongst each other. You never know when someone is LEO,or has been caught and made a deal to be an informant, or if you’ll just plain overstay your welcome and become another loose end to tie off. You also never know when you’ll be screwed in some way or other.
I would venture to say once a group breaks laws, they’ve crossed that grey ethical line, and escalating from there isn’t so hard. Somewhat like breaking into your first business or beating that first person to a bloody pulp; doing it a second time is far easier. As is escalating. It only takes one splinter group (cell? wut?) or even person to escalate things for the whole group, which means even more distrust.
Second, it would be folly for law enforcement and even governments to *not* have their undercover fingers in these sorts of groups for a variety of reasons: Sow discord, find criminals, discover incidents no one’s reported. But also to gain information into how these groups work, what their tech and methods are, and also gain assets. The latter goes for local agencies as well as foreign, as they attempt to gain talent and bodies and knowledge. Even people like Brian Krebs are involved as observers…
I would even argue that large corporations may have some interest in keeping their noses in the underworld like this, on a purely secure and non-active level. Then again, I doubt many orgs even get that far, as securing their own networks and people is tough enough. (I still have these moments where I think of the worlds painted in Back to the Future 2 or the Shadowrun universe where corporations are a dominant force, and they are quite involved in the under world.)
Now, do I think that someone like NATO has informants at all levels? I’d guess not directly; maybe via proxy when looking at cooperation from member nation agencies and even then counting their tenuous informants.
What I do guess is there are plenty of less-skilled persons in these hacker groups that make for great headlines when they get pinched en masse because they’re kids sitting at home making poor security decisions and being traced easily. The more popular they are, the more hangers-on there will be, and collectively the less safe they’ll be.