Mike Jones visits Fraud Busting. He’s been the hacker with a legit job during the day who caused havoc with his underground group in the cyber world by night. He takes us through his journey from doing ‘crypto stuff’ for the Navy to being targeted by the FBI…and then working for them. We’ll hear about his experiences behind the scenes working for the government, how he got stranded in Europe for 2 years, his ideas on election hacking and what to do for your computer-loving kids so they go down a good path and stay on the right side of the law.
Traci Brown: Okay, here we go. Mike, thank you so much for joining me on Fraud Busting today.
Mike Jones: Absolutely.
Traci Brown: Now, you’re a pretty interesting fellow and someone I really don’t know a whole lot about, but I want to know a whole lot about. Tell me, just tell us a little snippet of what you’re up, how we ended up getting in touch, stuff like that.
Mike Jones: Okay, sure. First of all, I started out in the military. I left the military and started a group called Anonymous. I got into a little bit of trouble with the FBI. I worked for them for a little bit as a CI. Then I took what I did, and I learned and started helping kids make better cyber decisions and help people protect themselves on the internet.
Traci Brown: Okay, let’s back up. There’s a lot there that we can go back to. Then we’ll get into what’s going on now. You joined the military. How old were you? What was your job? What branch? Tell us all that.
Mike Jones: Sure. I was 18 in my first enlistment during the first Iraq war. I served another term right after 9/11. I re-enlisted on 9/11 as a cryptologist in the Navy and I served in the Joint Force Intelligence Command in Virginia doing all kinds of crypto stuff. I got out around 2003. That’s when we started building up Anonymous.
Traci Brown: Okay. Let’s talk about that. You built this group, Anonymous, which says a lot about what they’re up to. What specifically, can you say what you all were doing? How did you end up on the bad side of the law?
Mike Jones: I wasn’t really happy what I saw in the military. The intelligence pictures that we were getting looked quite different from what was being portrayed to the public. A lot of stuff I didn’t agree with and just a real distaste for the federal government at the time. We started an idea to . . . the ideology behind the original Anonymous group was more of leveling the playing field and exposing corruption. That’s what we did. Sometimes it was taken a little bit too far. The problems you run into with a group like that is it’s very disparate and sometimes people work on their own, but under the auspices of Anonymous. Some bad things were carried out and of course the people that were at the core, Barrett Brown, myself, a handful of other people, were chased down by the FBI.
Traci Brown: Oh, wow. Now, what exactly did you all do? Let’s throw the covers off, quit calling it bad stuff, and things like that. Like what happened?
Mike Jones: I can go into some of it. Some of it I can’t talk about.
Traci Brown: Fair enough.
Mike Jones: It started off with the Church of Scientology. We went after the Church of Scientology, defaced the website because of some of their practices and they way they treated people. We also attacked the FBI, CIA. Occupy Wall Street was another big one. I was actually working both sides of the fence, Occupy Wall Street and I was working for a bank. At night I was also attacking the same bank.
Traci Brown: Oh, man. So, were you getting money? Were you just putting your message on the site? What happened?
Mike Jones: Most of it was Denial of Service. We had a couple tools that we created called They are a spinoff from . . . the names come from a game. Basically, it was …We distributed these tools to masses and basically there were Denial of Service tools. We would bring down websites, cause havoc within the banking systems, stuff like that, until people would recognize the corruption and acknowledge it. There were a lot of defacements that went on, Westboro Baptist Church, I don’t know if you remember that or not. They had a really big problem with homosexuality, and they were very verbal about it. They protested and we took down their website actually live during a TV interview.
Traci Brown: Oh, wow.
Mike Jones: It was very interesting. The funny thing about Anonymous was we had a lot of groups that splintered off of Anonymous. You have LulzSec and several other groups that carried out their own operations as well. But I didn’t really get into that end of it. I stayed mostly within the Anonymous core. We did do some things like doxing people and exposing people. We took down several thousand ISIS profiles on social media. We caught tons of pedophiles and turned them in. We actually got reprimanded for reporting some of the pedophiles because we were interfering with police investigations.
Traci Brown: Oh, wow.
Mike Jones: Even though we had all the data, we turned it over. The police didn’t want us messing with it. From 2003 until 2016 the FBI and the Secret Service and the U.S. Attorney’s Office built a profile and collected data on what I was doing. In 2016 it came to a head. We had a sit down meeting and I ended up becoming a CI for them for a year.
Traci Brown: A CI is . . . ?
Mike Jones: A confidential informant.
Traci Brown: Oh, wow. Okay.
Mike Jones: But I had a really good lawyer and the way that we worked it was I didn’t do anything domestic. It was all foreign intelligence, mostly on Eastern bloc hacking groups. To put things in perspective, it was 2016 so the election was going on. You can kind of put two and two together as to what I was doing. I can’t go into too much of that without probably landing myself in jail.
Traci Brown: Yea. No. Me too. Neither of us needs to go to jail. Okay, let me summarize this here. You have your group. You guys are like, you know what you’re doing. You’re attacking people that you don’t agree with on one level or another. Is that the basis of it?
Mike Jones: 100%.
Traci Brown: Is there gain in this or is it just because you can?
Mike Jones: It’s because we can.
Traci Brown: Okay.
Mike Jones: There were people in the group that did go after financial gain, but that was the ideology that we started with. If you look at Anonymous, support around the Michael Brown, St. Louis riots . . .
Traci Brown: Right, right.
Mike Jones: You can see traces of Anonymous guys setting fire to buildings and doing kinetic things, physical stuff. That’s not the ideology we started with. A lot of people left the group because of that twist in ideology.
Traci Brown: Oh, wow. So then, how did the FBI find you? Because you kind of left a gap in there. All of a sudden, it just came to a head. Where are you? Are you in a basement somewhere with a hoodie on? How does this really happen and how did they find you?
Mike Jones: I maintained a full-time job the entire time, working for a bunch of corporations, working for a bunch of startup companies, and one day they showed up at the office I was working at and took me to lunch.
Traci Brown: Oh.
Mike Jones: I had started a group called DC972 which is a DEF CON group, and they showed up at the meeting and were very interested in some of the stuff that I was talking about regarding bot nets and denial service. It kind of grew from there. They picked me up one day from work to take me to lunch and started asking me questions about specific individuals within Anonymous. Of course, they didn’t give me any information. They were trying to use against each other. Some of those guys did get arrested. Some of those guys did do time. I’m not sure they let me go from that point on. They just kind of tailed me. But the surveillance was off and on, like I said from 2003 all the way to 2016.
Traci Brown: Wow.
Mike Jones: They would show up at the most inopportune times, sit outside my house. They would always make themselves apparent that they were there. I was constantly looking over my shoulder. It was really a stressful time. I didn’t make things easy on myself by working a fulltime job and doing what I was doing because I knew that they were right there and knew that I would eventually get caught. I fully expected to be arrested. When I wasn’t, I was really surprised and kind of relieved, but the harassment didn’t stop there. I lost access to get back into the United States when I was in Europe. I lost any capability of having a bank account.
Traci Brown: Hang on, hang on. Back up. Let’s talk about these things here. Why did you go to Europe? You told me already you didn’t have a passport, or they took it from you or something. How did you end up in Europe?
Mike Jones: I was working for a company and I was going back and forth between Houston and Scotland doing legit work. At this time, this is a couple years ago. Everything I was doing was above board. I hadn’t broken any laws in a very long time. I was traveling back and forth and the last time I tried to go home was during Black Hat of last year.
Traci Brown: Black Hat is a conference. There are international ones. Isn’t there one in Vegas or something?
Mike Jones: There is one in Vegas. It’s the main one. They have Black Hat Federal in DC. They have Black Hat Europe, Black Hat Asia.
Traci Brown: Okay, okay.
Mike Jones: There are several. But I tried to go back to Black Hat and I stayed at a hotel at Gatwick Airport in London. I had a seizure and was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. They locked up the hotel room. I had a tendency to hide my passport. It’s just out of habit, so I put it under the bed between two boards that I knew nobody would go looking after. After I got out of the hospital, I went to retrieve our stuff, they unlocked the room. Everything was there except for my passport.
Traci Brown: Really?! Oh my gosh. Wow.
Mike Jones: I went to the U.S. Embassy in London and tried to get an emergency passport, a replacement passport. I paid 135 pounds, took the photos, and they told me that my passport had been revoked. They were really helpful when it came to filing for a lost or stolen passport, but as far as like helping you get a new one, there was no help at all. I was basically stranded in Europe.
Traci Brown: For how long?
Mike Jones: For almost two years.
Traci Brown: Wow. So, how did that work? Because you had a legit job that you were there for, right? Did you just call them and like, hey . . .
Mike Jones: I unfortunately lost that job because I couldn’t go back to the States. I ended up staying with friends, staying with a girlfriend, her family. It was really difficult. Technically, I was homeless in London for two years.
Traci Brown: Yea.
Mike Jones: Fortunately, but unfortunately, I got sick not too long ago and got diagnosed with epilepsy.
Traci Brown: Oh, wow.
Mike Jones: At that point, the hospital that I was in in London contacted the UK Consulate who then contacted the U.S. consulate. It’s technically illegal in the UK to be homeless and have epilepsy.
Traci Brown: Really?
Mike Jones: The U.S. was kind of forced to let me back in, so they gave me a provisional passport that was only good for a couple days and allowed me back into the country, gave me 60 pounds travel money. It was kind of funny because when I went to London Heathrow, everything was set up. I had my ticket, everything. I get to the line to get in to check in and I was denied. I thought, the UK and US Consulate, I had the paperwork right here, and they had to call DHS and clear me through DHS before I could even go through TSA. That’s very minor compared to what I’ve been through as far as the harassment. Even though I’m above board now, and I don’t have any charges over my head, they make life very hard. I can’t get a driver’s license. I can’t get another passport. I can’t get a bank account.
Traci Brown: Are you just stuffing cash under your mattress? How do you operate?
Mike Jones: I have a way of doing it. There are ways online, online bank accounts that help me. I don’t want to go into too much detail.
Traci Brown: Okay. Yea. We don’t need to do that.
Mike Jones: I’d like to survive for a while.
Traci Brown: Alright. We don’t want to out you too much. While you’re over there in Europe, we know you’re struggling for somewhere to live. Are you still doing your . . . like shutting down websites? How are you getting money? Do you ever cross the line into out and out financial fraud? You never do it?
Mike Jones: No, 2016 was the last illegal activity. I haven’t done anything illegal since then. What I did was I worked with London Met police in their cyber prevent program and I became a public speaker. It got to the point where I was being paid to do public speaking and do events and conferences. That helped me to survive. The people in Europe, I can’t say enough about them. They were fantastic. They recognized the fact that my background was useful to help stop fraud, to help stop kids from making wrong decisions, and their program is cutting edge, something we don’t have in the United States. They actually give kids a second chance and people like me a second chance. I helped in that program. It helped me get my name out there. I toured all through the UK. I spoke in Egypt remotely. I did a lot of public speaking and it worked for those kids a lot. It was great. It helped me to survive. It put money in my pocket. My family over there really helped, my girlfriend and her family really took care of me because they knew my situation.
Traci Brown: Yea. So then, I have so many questions. What are you doing now? Because you kind of left the bad behind and you’re on a good track. You’re speaking. You’re helping kids. What do you do all day now?
Mike Jones: Right now, since I’ve been back to the states I’ve just been recuperating. I fought COVID off twice. I had the European strain and the American strain.
Traci Brown: Oh, man.
Mike Jones: I was hospitalized for a while. I’m recreating in the mountains of Alabama in a remote location. I’m still doing speaking. I haven’t done anything lately, but I’m going to start picking that back up. I’m going to start doing some freelance stuff, pen testing, stuff like that.
Traci Brown: Now, pen testing, for people who are listening, is basically breaking into companies, but they pay you to do it. Right.
Mike Jones: Exactly.
Traci Brown: You’d be perfect at that.
Mike Jones: I’ve done it for going on 20 years now. I was doing that when I was in Anonymous. That was my legit job. I’ve always been a pen tester. A red teamer. A red teamer basically modeled adversaries and identified risks within organizations and modeled what those adversaries would do to that company.
Traci Brown: It’s pretty easy to break in from what I’m hearing.
Mike Jones: Yea.
Traci Brown: We all have so many vulnerabilities. Okay. What else are you doing?
Mike Jones: Building companies. I’m looking at starting some companies south of the border, doing some stuff here, just continuing what I’m doing from the UK, but doing it from here instead of London. I’m trying to get everything back in order, trying to get my passport back, trying to get cleared from DHS and from the banking systems. I don’t know how much work that’s going to take. I’ve contacted some senators and some congressman to help me out.
Traci Brown: Oh, wow.
Mike Jones: I looked at it this way. This is my distaste for the federal government is the fact that I served the country and defended the country during two wars, and I’m treated like an enemy of the state. I understand the stuff that I did was wrong, but I’ve helped them out. It’s time to bury the hatchet and let me live like a normal human being instead of imprisoned in my own house.
Traci Brown: Right, right. Let’s talk about this. I think you are the right guy to talk about this with. The 2020 election, who’s hacking us and how are they doing it? I know you know. I know you know this, Mike.
Mike Jones: Without going into too much detail, I worked for the FBI as a CI during the 2016 election. I’ll just say this. Things are not always as they appear.
Traci Brown: Okay.
Mike Jones: The Republicans and the Democrats obviously don’t like each other. The FBI probe into misconduct, the Comey report, I’ll just say this, the federal government and the Department of Justice is not always as clean and white as they seem. There are some underhanded things that go on within the federal government.
Traci Brown: Oh sure.
Mike Jones: Of course, they’ve got to find a scapegoat. That’s the government’s main function when it comes to pinning crimes or trying to find someone responsible. If they’re responsible, they’ll usually point somebody out or a group out externally and put the blame on them. I got some insight into what was going on during elections in 2016, and I’ll just say that things are not always what they seem.
Traci Brown: I get that you can’t say a lot. Then, do you think, knowing what you know, that the rightful people end up in office?
Mike Jones: No. absolutely not.
Traci Brown: Okay. Alright. Now, is there anything that we regular citizens on the street can do to have our vote count a little bit more than maybe not at all?
Mike Jones: I’m kind of jaded when it comes to voting. I don’t vote.
Traci Brown: Can you vote now? I mean, can you?
Mike Jones: I’m not even sure. I haven’t tried. But the reason why I don’t vote is because my view is that government is one corporation. The right and left, it appears to be a solid division, but when it comes down to it, the lobbyists, the constituents, they’re the ones who choose. Money is what drives business and government is a business. If people think that their vote really counts, I would say maybe take a look at how the election is and how voting is really set up. People can vote a certain way within, let’s say red state, but if the electoral college doesn’t agree with that vote, the electoral college does not have to vote with the populous.
Traci Brown: Oh, exactly. That’s totally true.
Mike Jones: I think our Founding Fathers . . . I’m a freemason as well, so I’m big constitutionalist.
Traci Brown: Wow.
Mike Jones: When the government was built back during the founding Fathers’ time, and they said when the government gets too large, it’s the people’s responsibility to reign it back in and take it over. If the government becomes corrupt, it is the people’s responsibility to fix it. I think what we’re seeing, especially during a pandemic and during riots is that people are starting to wake up. They’re starting to see that the government has gotten too large and overbearing. I think eventually we’re going to come to a point where it may not be a civil war in a traditional sense of North versus South, but I think it’ll be the people versus the federal government. I think we’re already seeing that. It’s just going to take one trigger event to spur a wide reaction. The people are starting to wake up a little bit.
Traci Brown: Now, is there anything we can do as far as should we go vote in person? Should we take our mail-in ballot and drop it in the box ourselves at the voting place? Is there anything or is this all, in your experience, kind of out of our hands, no way to do it?
Mike Jones: The patriotic duty to vote, I don’t do it because I don’t agree with the federal government, but they do run the country. If you’re a voter, vote, but vote in person. Now, will election fraud still happen? Absolutely. There are ballots ending up in rivers, dead people voting three and four times. Our system of government is beyond corrupt. We see it every day. I don’t know if there is a way to fix that. I sat in London and watched the pandemic break out and I watched the riots break out, and I thought, how sad. Our government has just fallen apart. The people are left powerless. But I would say do your patriotic duty and vote if that’s the type of person you are because that’s the backbone of what our country is supposed to be. Government by the people for the people. Unfortunately, once it gets to the federal level, it’s not for the people. But hopefully if the people do their patriotic duty and stand up for what they believe in, hopefully things will change. It will be painful because change is painful. But if people pursue it, I think if we band together, we can make things change.
Traci Brown: Got it. Okay, so I ask all my guests this. What’s the craziest case you’ve worked on that you can talk about?
Mike Jones: Craziest case. I can say that when I was in the military I worked on a few cases of some very sketchy behavior from brass.
Traci Brown: From who?
Mike Jones: Brass, like officers.
Traci Brown: Officers, brass. Okay, got it.
Mike Jones: Some stuff that they were doing on Craigslist and stuff like that. I saw some really crazy stuff.
Traci Brown: Like selling guns?
Mike Jones: Yea.
Traci Brown: Oh, wow. Okay.
Mike Jones: Like selling themselves.
Traci Brown: Selling themselves? Oh. Shoot. Okay.
Mike Jones: I saw some crazy stuff in the military. Then when I was working for the FBI, I won’t go into too much detail, but it was very shocking to see really the truth behind what actually goes on and how the FBI operates and how they used me as an informant. It was really shocking. People like me, who have been informants before, know what I’m talking about, the constant OIAs which is “otherwise illegal activity” forms that I had to sign. It basically said it’s okay to break the law if we tell you to, but if you go outside that scope, then we’ll convict you.
Traci Brown: Oh boy.
Mike Jones: I thought this is really deranged that you’re having me break the law and do the things that I did while I was in Anonymous and you’re sanctioning me to do it legally, but yet, you came after me. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me.
Traci Brown: Right, right.
Mike Jones: I have a little touch of Asperger’s so a lot of social stuff doesn’t make sense and the way they treated me was very odd. I didn’t understand it. Every time that I signed paperwork, I never signed it with my name. They gave me a name to sign it with.
Traci Brown: Really?
Mike Jones: Yea. Everything was cash. There were no checks. There were no traceable accounts. It was kind of scary actually. But I was just glad to get through it. I had a really great lawyer, David Adler. He was ex-CIA. He ended up getting a guy out of prison that was working for the CIA and got busted for arms dealing, and the CIA turned their back on him. He ended up doing some time in prison and my lawyer got him out.
Traci Brown: Wow.
Mike Jones: To have access to the documents, but that’s how the federal government works. They use people and when they don’t need you, they throw you away.
Traci Brown: Wow. Okay, okay. You’re not really working for the government anymore. Is that true?
Mike Jones: No.
Traci Brown: You’re working, like speaking. How are you helping kids and people now? Let’s get into that.
Mike Jones: The kids that I worked with in London were fantastic. The cyber prevent program identified potential cyber criminals within an age group that ranged anywhere from 11 to like 18. They would bring them in and do an intervention workshop with them and their parents. I would speak to their parents, tell them my story, kind of tell them what to look for, how to connect with their kids because most of them that I dealt with were on the spectrum. There are unique issues there and things that the parents kind of needed to know. What I found is there is a huge gap between the parents and the kids as far as communication goes and understanding. A lot of the parents didn’t understand the technology. I worked with them a little bit. Then the kids, I’d try to connect with them. It was really easy to connect with them because they were on my level. A lot of them didn’t know they were breaking the law. The Computer Abuse Act in the UK is not really delivered to the kids. It’s a low, but it’s never explained. I went and spoke at the university and I was talking about the Computer Abuse Act in the UK and the lecturer that brought me in to speak the school turned around and looked at me, and he said, “What is that?” I was shocked. I was like, “You teach cybersecurity at a university level, and you don’t know what the Computer Abuse Act is?” That’s the type of things that I do. I help people understand the law. I help kids identify that they are talented and use that talent to help and to build a career rather than end up in my position.
Traci Brown: Wow. So then, keep going and I have a question after that.
Mike Jones: It really help me to connect with myself and understand the psychology behind it, kind of understand the reasons why I did what I did, and why I do certain things because I really hadn’t dove into that psychology part to really understand some of the other people I was dealing with.
Traci Brown: So, what do you think? Why did you do it, besides that you could? What do you think?
Mike Jones: A lot of it has to do with control. As a kid, I didn’t have much control. I came from a family that was very strict. My dad was kind of absent. I was very to myself. I didn’t have much guidance when it came to that stuff. It didn’t matter what I did, everything was wrong. Their idea of parenting was to throw an electronics kit or a computer at me and that would keep me entertained, so that is what I did. That type of psychology, it builds off of that need for control, and also you know financial plays a part once you get older, and also just the fact that you can do what you do. I tell kids, especially younger ones, it’s like being a magician. You can do things that other people can’t do. It’s like a superpower, but with that superpower comes responsibility. That’s one thing I didn’t understand as a kid was that the things that I could do could cause damage. I think the first place that I attacked and got caught was the Nuclear Subcommittee BBS. I received a letter of warning from the government saying, look, don’t do it again. At that point, I knew I had that need for control. I had a talent that I didn’t know was a talent. I just thought it was a skill. But I tried to explain to kids it is a talent. It’s the next step in human evolution, I believe, is the position they’re in.
Traci Brown: Right. So then, let’s say there is a parent listening right now with a kid who is, I don’t know, maybe like you said, a touch of Asperger’s or just really good at computers, maybe you don’t know exactly what they’re doing. What are the resources out there to turn them in a good direction versus getting into trouble?
Mike Jones: I would tell the parent, this is what I tell parents all the time: Learn the technology. Get involved with what your kid is doing. If your kids are gaming, if they’re playing Fortnite, or if they’re playing Minecraft, play with them. Get online with them. Monitor what they’re doing because those are the grounds where organized crime recruits kids and groom them. We’ve seen it over and over again. White supremacy groups recruiting kids from Fortnite, pedophiles doing the same thing, organized crime groups for credit carding and stuff like that will start off having kids mod characters or mod maps. It grows from that to attacking databases. Really, get involved with what your kids are doing. Understand, connect with them, understand technology. I know they’re kids’ games, but if you really want to be a part of your kid’s life and really be active, you have to get involved because that’s the future. Those kids are already there, and they’re going to leave you behind. If they leave you behind, you will have no idea what they’re doing.
Traci Brown: Right. Wow. Are there any groups, resources for this, or is it just get involved, figure it out?
Mike Jones: In the UK, the Met police got funding for a mentor program and that was kind of what I started to help building when I was there. I hope and pray that they continue doing that. In the US, I don’t know of anything like that. The US is very hands off when in comes to cybercrime which I don’t understand. They’re very good at convicting people and imposing harsh sentences, but as far as like helping the kids, making them choose a different path, it’s not there. Connecting parents with those kids, it’s just not there. But I’m always open to talking to parents or helping kids.
Traci Brown: Wow. I was going to ask you, so it was a perfect lead in. How can people get a hold of you? What’s the easiest way to do that? If they want you to speak or maybe talk about how they can help their kid. Tell me about that.
Mike Jones: Sure. I have a Twitter. It’s @sting3r2013. They can contact me there or on LinkedIn. You have my LinkedIn. I respond to everybody that contacts me. It doesn’t matter how many people contact me, everybody will get a response.
Traci Brown: Wow. That’s super cool. Mike, thank you so much. I think you’re just a wealth of knowledge and a little mysterious too. I think you’re very intriguing. Thank you for coming on Fraud Busting.
Mike Jones: Absolutely. I appreciate it.