Spalding railway station in Lincolnshire is not a big place. It takes me about two seconds to scan the platform and spot who I’m looking for: Jake Davis, aka Topiary, the computer hacker who at one point last year was the subject of one of the biggest manhunts on the planet.
For a period in 2011, LulzSec – an offshoot of Anonymous, the internet “hacktivist” collective who came to prominence around the time of the Wikileaks affair – wreaked a trail of chaos across the web. Their actions ranged from the transgressive – they had taken down the CIA’s website and hacked into Sony’s database and released more than a million user names and passwords – to the absurd: after the American network PBS aired a critical documentary about Julian Assange, LulzSec hacked into their website and replaced the homepage with an article about Tupac Shakur, the (very much dead) rapper, which bore the headline “Tupac Still Alive in New Zealand”. During the Arab spring, members of the group hacked and defaced Tunisian and Egyptian government sites. One hacker, Tflow (later discovered to be a 16-year-old London schoolboy), allegedly wrote a webscript that enabled activists to circumvent government snooping.
LulzSec had also hacked into the website of Soca, the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency, and replaced the front page of the Sun online with a “report” that Rupert Murdoch had been found dead (with a helpful hint for the FBI in the closing paragraph: he’d been found, it said, “in his famous topiary garden”).