Man Leaks Sensitive Documents To 4chan; Receives Insults, Arrest For His Troubles

from the didn't-really-think-this-through,-did-you? dept

If you'd like to blow the whistle on government activity, there are several options available to you. First, there are the "proper channels," which come highly recommended by government officials who don't care much for whistleblowers. Then there's the media. Depending on which outlet you choose, there's probably going to be a lot of backdoor chatter with officials to "negotiate" the terms of document releases -- which could result in a more concerted effort by the government to expose the source of the documents..

There are other outlets like Wikileaks, which provide less narrative and analysis, but are generally more willing to release large sets of documents at one time, rather than trickling them out over a period of several years. Safety isn't guaranteed, but Wikileaks is far less likely to return government agencies' calls.

Then there's 4chan, a route no one has recommended for anyone ever. (via Vice News)

In an embarrassing security breach, a 21-year-old Department of Defence graduate allegedly managed to download a secret Defence Intelligence Organisation assessment, burn it to a disc, take it home and post it to anonymous image-sharing forum 4chan while praising Julian Assange as his hero.
Why this person decided 4chan was the best outlet for a top secret, Five-Eyes-only document is unclear. It seems to suggest the leaker had some familiarity with the forum and its denizens. But if so, he surely had to know his leak had about a 99% chance of being greeted with derision… at best.

Michael Scerba, the alleged document leaker, watched his original post -- which supposedly contained the first two pages of the classified document -- get the usual 4chan response. He complained about it -- at 4chan -- four days later.
A user, who prosecutors allege was Scerba, complained that no one had believed the documents were real.

"Plus to my dismay I just got a bunch of 'fake and gay' remarks and the secret documents went 404 [website not found] about 4 comments 1 hour later," he allegedly posted.

"So... any other suggestions on how to minimize getting caught by authorities?"
No suggestions were forthcoming, apparently. Scerba was caught by authorities. He's now facing charges of leaking sensitive information.

Almost as astonishing as Scerba's actions is how the leak was discovered.
Court documents describe the discovery of the leak as "fortuitous", occurring only when a former Defence Signals Directorate employee stumbled onto the post while browsing the website.
It's unclear from this sentence whether the employee was browsing the site on his own time after leaving the employ of the Directorate or whether he kept one eye on the website as part of his Defence Signals activities. If it's the latter, 4chan is being monitored by at least one government agency.

It's also unclear as to how much damage actually needs to be mitigated. The original post only stayed live for one hour. The government's statements claim "14 people had already commented on it" as if that's some sort of significant amount. It also suggests the government believes it was 14 different people (at minimum) who had seen the post, which is quite the assumption in regards to this wholly anonymous forum.

No one does "meta" quite like 4chan. Two definitely NSFW threads (here and here) discussing the news report of the attempted 4chan document leaking are available for those who have some general idea what they're getting into if they click through. Those unfamiliar with the particular charms of 4chan are probably better off gathering this information from other sources. It does appear that no archive of this leaked document exists, which is kind of why no one has ever suggested using 4chan as a leaked document repository.

And, in the end, we learn absolutely nothing new about our Five Eyes partner's secret activities, other than that some former or current employees of a certain agency browse 4chan for work/pleasure. As for 4chan, it will continue to be 4chan. Vice's Drew Millard boils down the essence of 4chan to a single sentence:
The site's users seemed generally pleased with their actions.
Feed something to 4chan and you'll get back whatever the users choose to give you. The site exists largely for its own amusement. Scerba may have thought using an anonymous board would give him additional protection, but all it really got him was insults to go with his legal injuries.

Filed Under: leaks, michael scerba, whistleblower
Companies: 4chan


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2015 @ 8:41am

    Is 4chan truly anonymous?

    I've not tried 4chan so will yield to those that have.

    Most every posting site I've been to requires a valid email to register because they will send one that you have to click to confirm you want to register. You don't click that email you don't get to post. Even if you use Gmail, Hotmail, and the like are you truly anonymous?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2015 @ 8:51am

      Re: Is 4chan truly anonymous?

      4chan is kind of the home of the original (or at least most infamous) "Anonymous" posting tag, and no login is required (not even sure if you can have an account at all).

      Like Techdirt, you'll be given a random identifier based on your IP so you can at least attribute a series of posts to a single person. And of course IP logging means you can be tracked back if someone cares enough.

      Of course, that's what I know from 2nd hand knowledge, so I could be completely wrong.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2015 @ 11:46am

        Re: Re: Is 4chan truly anonymous?

        You can choose to have an identifier attached. This is generally only for giving yourself a name to prove you are the OP.

        The default method labels you 'Anon', asks for nothing except a captcha, and gives you a text box. Starting a new topic requires an image as well.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2015 @ 2:03pm

        Re: Re: Is 4chan truly anonymous?

        You can have a trip. Where one becomes a tripfag, its pretty simple to create and only you..well..your IP, will be able to use the screename after its creation, its like that on almost all chans. Some subforums in chan almost contain only people who go with a trip/nym. There was a joke 4chan gold account a long time ago to mock reddit, I think, I don't know, I stay away from that toilet of the internet, the one chan I visit is a lot more pleasant, and that dude's post, if not scrubbed by a mod, would have taken a pretty long time if posted anywhere than in /b/ (which is the equivalent of Offtopic in any typical forum).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 7 Aug 2015 @ 8:57am

      Re: Is 4chan truly anonymous?

      I seriously doubt 4chan has that sort of mechanism. In general, though, that type of mechanism is trivially easy to navigate without giving up your anonymity.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2015 @ 9:11am

      Re: Is 4chan truly anonymous?

      4chan is anonymous in the sense that it requires no registration, requires no user names, and use of user names is largely frowned upon by the users. Some boards have enabled ID codes that are generated for users, to discourage one person from pretending to be multiple people. Bans are via ip address. As such posting from IP anonymization services tend to be banned due to such services being abused. Likewise some other IP address ranges are banned due to abuse. They do offer sale of a 4chan pass which allows the purchaser to bypass the CAPTCHA, and some general bans on some IP ranges. Of course that requires giving them a email address that works long enough for them to send you the appropriate credentials, and some form of payment information, though they do accept bitcoin.

      In short, you're anonymous to other users. You are only as anonymous to the site moderators and administrators as your IP address. So largely the same as posting to Techdirt.

      In general, you should be able to read their FAQ page for more information: https://www.4chan.org/faq

      It contains no NSFW content, aside from the fact that 4chan.org itself may be blocked due to the parts of the site that do contain NSFW content.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Nop (profile), 7 Aug 2015 @ 9:17am

      Re: Is 4chan truly anonymous?

      It's anonymous in the sense that you don't need to create an account to use it, but the site prevents posting from TOR exit nodes & other IPs known to be associated with proxies, so it's not all that anonymous in any useful sense.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2015 @ 9:56am

      Re: Is 4chan truly anonymous?

      >Most every posting site I've been to requires a valid email to register because they will send one that you have to click to confirm you want to register. You don't click that email you don't get to post. Even if you use Gmail, Hotmail, and the like are you truly anonymous?

      That does not apply to 4chan. There is no signup, only logs of IP addresses.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2015 @ 11:25am

      Re: Is 4chan truly anonymous?

      Yes and no.

      There are no accounts, no usernames, no passwords. Every user, by default, has the same name, 'Anonymous'. No login or accounts of any kind.

      Some boards have thread-specific IDs turned on. These are not proper IDs, you don't have an email or anything associated- this is just a hashtag unique to a particular poster. So you can tell what posts belong to a particular poster, but A, only within that thread, and B, there is no further information. (And it doesn't cover, say, the same person making posts on two different computers.) Again, these are thread specific; wait for the thread to die, or post literally anywhere else, and presto, new identity.

      Finally, if desired, you can put a name in the name field, so it doesn't display "Anonymous". Optional. Frequently, the site's users try to discourage this (in the ways 4chan is famously uncivil for) unless it's particularly relevant to a topic. Of course, if other users want to impersonate someone with a name, they can just put the same name in their name field too. (And frequently, that's a way to mock those who are using names unnecessarily.)

      Also available are manual hashtags. Put in a name (or nothing at all), then # or ## and some string of text after, in the text field, and it will generate a unique hash based on the seed {#seed or ##seed} to display along with your post. Others can't impersonate this without knowing your seed string. Unnecessary use of this is also frowned upon.

      Finally and most importantly; everyone is essentially anonymous unless they do something stupid like post a real name, SSN, real email, what have you. Except; provided a warrant or something comes in, the site does have your IP and so you can actually be tracked down.

      As far as the users are concerned, you are functionally anonymous unless you wish to expend effort not to be.

      I'm not sure how politic it is to too someone's horn in the comments section of a newspost, but I happen to like this analysis of 4chan's culture.
      http://kazerad.tumblr.com/post/96020280368/faceless-together

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 7 Aug 2015 @ 8:51am

    Two 4-chan users over 21 with Jobs? I don't buy it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    avideogameplayer, 7 Aug 2015 @ 8:54am

    The problem is 4chan doesn't TRUST anyone...especially someone who claims to have leaked government info...

    Honeypot, anyone?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2015 @ 9:00am

    This part kills me:

    "...praising Julian Assange as his hero..."

    but doesn't use Wikileaks to disseminate the leak.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 7 Aug 2015 @ 11:37am

      Re:

      "...praising Julian Assange as his hero..."
      but doesn't use Wikileaks to disseminate the leak.

      Manning did. Look where "she" is now.

      I gave you a funny anyway. It is.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2015 @ 9:00am

    4chan are nothing but a bunch of irresponsible children. What kind of idiot breaks into the government's network and then releases them to an infantile message board like 4chan?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2015 @ 9:12am

    ...a 21-year-old Department of Defence graduate...

    ... as in "he is no longer a DoD employee"? Or did he get a degree of some sort?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Ambrellite, 7 Aug 2015 @ 9:42am

    This is kind of horrifying

    Yes, this guy is a colossal dumbass...

    ...but he was smart enough to fool the DoD into giving him access to the materials, or else acquire them without permission.

    Think about that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2015 @ 10:41am

    In the spirit of 4chan, let me put it like this:
    "OP got v& for being a massive faggot"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Guardian, 7 Aug 2015 @ 2:24pm

    how to use email anonymously

    nvm i madea huge thread on this then thought ...naaa im not gonna education the corporate's how to screw this up fer me too...

    lets just say if your my friend or a friends friend, you will get taught

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2015 @ 6:30pm

    Well, aside from the documents revealed, he did confirm once again that an organisation whose job it is, to store information on anyone and everyone without consent, doesnt evev have the common decency to secure that information that they should not have

    Should not have

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2015 @ 8:17pm

    Why would you post classified documents to a bunch of immature kids on 4chan? It no wonder someone with such poor judgement would be caught and immediately apprehended.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Aug 2015 @ 1:53pm

    A lesser known but still frequented chan would have made things turn differently no doubt. Anyone who uses a chan, views them as the new usenet with pictures if one wants to post one past the OP.

    420chan took down Hal Turner who's neonazi radio show was all paid for by the FBI and Turner was an FBI informant.

    Just sayin'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Aug 2015 @ 11:26pm

    It also suggests the government believes it was 14 different people (at minimum) who had seen the post, which is quite the assumption in regards to this wholly anonymous forum.

    Number of unique posters is displayed at the top of every thread. This can be inaccurate if one person is posting from multiple locations, but their assumption is still reasonable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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