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A security researcher claims to have infiltrated the higher echelons of the Anonymous organisation and identified key leaders' names and addresses.
Aaron Barr, head of security services firm HBGary Federal, told The Financial Times that he has identified two key members of Anonymous in the US, including a co-founder, as well as other senior members in the UK, Germany, Netherlands, Italy and Australia.
A core group of around 30 people co-ordinate Anonymous campaigns, including 10 who are "the most senior and co-ordinate and manage most of the decisions", according to Barr.
The researcher monitored communications on email, Facebook and IRC between group members by setting up fake online identities.
He is not passing the information on to the authorities, since some of the methods he used break police rules, but will present his results at the RSA Conference in San Francisco later this month.
Barr said that he had identified one of the leaders, known only as 'Owen', who is being investigated as part of the FBI's ongoing battle against Anonymous. One of the co-founders of Anonymous, named 'Q', is apparently seeking a replacement for Owen.
Anonymous has now apparently responded to Barr's claims with a posting on the AnonNews site. Entitled 'Anonymous admits defeat,' the message suggests that the group is taking the claims less than seriously.
"Mr Barr has successfully broken through our over 9,000 proxy field and into our entirely non-public and secret insurgent IRC lair, where he then smashed through our fire labyrinth with vigour, collected all the gold rings on the way, opened a 50 silver key chest to find Anon's legendary hackers on steroids pa ssword," the statement said.
"At this point, it is safe to assume that the underground server sites at the North Pole have been compromised as well."
Members of he Anonymous group have been increasingly active over the past year, conducting online attacks against MasterCard and PayPal for blocking payments to WikiLeaks, as well as government targets in Algeria and Egypt. As a result, police in the UK and US have made a series of arrests.
Iain Thomson is the US editor of V3.co.uk based in San Francisco. Iain has been a part of the V3.co.uk team since 2002 and was previously technical editor of PC Magazine, reviews editor of PC Advisor and editor of Aviation Informatics. He also appears as an occasional commentator on BBC television and radio, ITV and Bloomberg.