The iPad Hacker Is Also an Anti-Semitic Internet Troll Legend

One of the leaders of Goatse Security, the hacker group that discovered a security flaw that revealed the emails of iPad early adopters, has been arrested - on drugs charges. According to CNET,

A hacker in a group that discovered the AT&T iPad-related flaw was arrested following the execution of an FBI search warrant of his home in Arkansas on Tuesday, authorities told CNET. Andrew Auernheimer, 24, was being held in Washington County Detention Center in Fayetteville, Ark., according to Lt. Anthony Foster of the Washington County Sheriff's office in that state. The drugs were found during the execution of the warrant, said Lt. Mike Perryman, of the Fayetteville Police Department. However, Perryman could not say what prompted the warrant.

Drugs aside, why the police were in his house to begin with is a pretty important question, especially since it's unclear that he did anything wrong. As he told CNET and others, he had no intention of revealing any of the emails or revealing the flaw until after AT&T had closed the hole.

Maybe there's more to the story.

Auernheimer also goes by the name Weev, a moniker he's used for years to terrorize and wreck havoc on internet message boards. In a 2008 New York Times feature that exposed the online underworld of trolling -- essentially, attempting to ruin people's lives via virulent comments, or worse -- Weev gets top billing as the leader of a truth-bending, morally fluid culture that lives on message boards like 4chan and websites like Encyclopedia Dramatica -- and that once in a while gets blamed for driving its enemies to suicide.

(Read the Times excerpt about Weev and see his photo at Motherboard.)8

Take a moment to digest that. Then read how, in 2009, Auernheimer, apparently since un-masked, was investigated by the FBI over a few very troubling anti-semitic phone calls:

Jewish Federation of Greater Portland Community Relations Director Robert Horenstein said the suspect, whose name was not made public, "admitted making the calls and the FBI is now working with the U.S. Attorney's office to determine if a crime has been committed."

The alleged caller, whom authorities described to Horenstein as having "low intelligence and no means to carry out any threats," reportedly said over the phone, "The Nazis are coming to get you; there will be another Holocaust" and "You killed my Lord. You will pay."

Auernheimer -- who used to make anti-Semetic remarks on his now-defunct website -- denied the allegations, but the case clearly won him more enemies than he already had, and piqued the curiosity of the authorities. Said Horenstein, following the FBI investigation, "Portland police now believe him to be a much lower-level threat than was believed previously, but stress that they will continue to monitor him."

Was the Search Warrant Warranted?
Putting aside Auernheimer's history, the iPad hack investigation bears some resemblance to the March criminal probe of a Gizmodo editor that was requested by Apple, Inc., after Gizmodo published photos of that iPhone prototype.

But whether or not AT&T put any pressure on the FBI, did the hack itself -- a scraping of data that was available through a security flaw -- warrant a criminal warrant to search Auernheimer's home? Or was it simply a good excuse to nab a young man with some very suspicious intentions, and an increasing array of digital firepower?

The Virtues and Vices of Anonymity
It will be interesting to see how this story ends, and how corporations, consumers and critics will respond to it.

For his sake, it may not matter that Weev intended to serve the public by revealing the iPad security leak. But in various ways, Weev has offered us a cautionary tale about the dangers of keeping our personal data on the internet - and the virulent risk of a culture of total anonymity, too.

Originally published at Motherboard.

(PHOTO: NYTIMES/Robbie Cooper)