Major media outlets have featured him as representative of a new generation of "patriot hackers." He sent an old laptop to the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., where it's now on display. He claims to have launched hacking attacks on websites ranging from jihadist forums to WikiLeaks. Last week, a guest on the syndicated radio program "Coast to Coast AM" described the individual hiding behind "The Jester" moniker (or "th3j35t3r" in hacker lingo) as "not somebody in someone's basement in a T-shirt."
Except that he does appear to be just a regular guy, and not part of some sophisticated operation. He is nevertheless an iconic figure in the world of cyber-spying. A U.S. Army cyber-operations specialist issued a report that used the "Jester Dynamic" to illustrate a new breed of online warrior. I spent three hours on the phone with a man claiming to be The Jester in the wee hours last week. This is a cautionary tale about the smoke and mirrors in the new frontier of cyber-espionage, which U.S. intelligence leaders described in March as the top security threat to the United States -- surpassing terrorism.
I discovered The Jester's existence a few weeks ago, finding the persona charming and amusing but quickly realizing that he wasn't actually hacking. Rather, he was using a readily available tool to launch a deluge of junk data at websites, causing them to become unavailable to users. There was no actual intrusion.
As a pro-Western "hacktivist," he claimed to have hacked a Venezuelan newspaper's website when that country's president considered granting asylum to NSA intel leaker Edward Snowden. Leaving the target website untouched, he effectively directed his audience to a spoof page he created that replaced certain articles with his own. He did the same to a Libyan newspaper during the anti-Gadhafi operation. Legitimate cyber specialists tell me The Jester has requested that they perform technical wizardry on his behalf.
During my online exchanges with The Jester via his Twitter account, I told him that through basic human intelligence analysis, profiling and open-source research, I was able to figure out who he was -- but that I didn't care who he was, because he appeared to be just goofing around. Apparently miffed, he sent me a private Twitter message one night saying that he was going to call me that he was going to call me, and seconds later a person who said he was The Jester did (after two Google Voice throwaway numbers failed).