On Friday, hackers under the banner Anonymous released three years' worth of emails from the law firm representing a marine convicted in the 2005 Haditha massacre in Iraq, which presents a fresh question of how anybody will ever find anything worthwhile in all that. It's a huge amount of data -- about three gigabytes consisting of 100,000 or so emails -- and having already seen it we can tell you: It's very hard to penetrate. Most of the emails from the Puckett and Faraj firm have nothing to do with Marine Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, whose conviction without prison time sparked Anonymous's interest in his lawyers. We found some messages discussing unrelated evidence, some about the planning of office presentations, and some involving a car purchase. But nothing on Wuterich so far. So how will Anonymous and the media organizations covering this story find emails with any news value? They'll do what they do best and hack their way into it.
Actually, it would be more fair to say Anonymous and its allies will program their way into making these emails accessible. Anonymous collaborator Barrett Brown, who often represents the hacker network to the media, told The Atlantic Wire on Friday the standard procedure with a big pile of data like this was to create a search engine specific to the data cache. "Right now we're just about ready to put a link up so people can start downloading a torrent. Then we'll set up a search engine just like in HBGary, and people will be able to put in a key word," Brown said. Anybody who wants to can volunteer to build a search engine. And people will use the one that works best. "It's not a formal process. We don't divvy them up. We just go to servers with lots of people and say, hey, look, go through these."
Basically, they're crowd-sourcing the work. But unlike when media outlets raced to read Sarah Palin's gubernatorial emails last summer, the netizens are volunteering to build search programs to make it easier for others to sift through the messages and then report on them. Brown said a recent hack into neo Nazi groups had a search engine up and running within about six hours, though it wasn't great. That cache of information yielded messages that reportedly showed that presidential candidate Ron Paul had met with key members of the white supremacist group American Third Party (A3P). An earlier release of emails stolen from the California security firm HBGary had a search engine up and running in about two days, Brown said, but it was more robust. That break-in yielded news of even bigger hacks that had gone unnoticed before, such as a "very sensitive" breach into Morgan Stanley's servers.
So what do hackers expect to find in the emails? Brown was vague but he said he expected "a lot of material that demonstrates this firm is an amoral firm." The people who got the emails in the first place have already found some incriminating stuff from the lawyers, Brown said. We haven't seen the emails themselves, but Anonymous described them in its screed on the defaced website of Puckett and Faraj:
Brown said the cadre of Anonymous hackers with which he was working had no formal relationships with media outlets, but did have some informal understandings with individual reporters, in particular a few from Bloomberg. "Somebody at Bloomberg's already looking through these," he said. "They've been a good partner to us."