Anonymous hackers jailed for DDoS attacks on Visa, Mastercard and Paypal

 

Two self-styled “hacktivists” were jailed today for carrying out cyber attacks with hacking group Anonymous, one of which cost a website £3.5 million.

Christopher Weatherhead, 22, of Holly Road, Northampton, was given an 18-month sentence at Southwark Crown Court, London, after being found guilty of conspiring to impair the operation of computers between August 1, 2010 and January 22, 2011.

Ashley Rhodes, 28, of Bolton Crescent, Camberwell, south London, admitted the same charge and was jailed for seven months.

Co-defendant Peter Gibson, 24, of Castletown Road, Hartlepool, was deemed to have played a lesser role in the conspiracy, which he also admitted, and given a six-month suspended sentence.

Jake Birchall, 18, from Chester, will be sentenced later. He had also admitted the conspiracy.

Weatherhead did not react as he was jailed but Rhodes sighed and leant his head back on the wall behind him. A relative of one of the four defendants was seen weeping outside the courtroom following the sentencing.

Birchall will be sentenced on February 1.

The websites that fell victim to the cyber attacks were chosen by Anonymous, as part of so-called Operation Payback, because the hackers did not agree with their views.

Judge Peter Testar said: "It is intolerable that when an individual or a group disagrees with a particular entity's activities they should be free to curtail that activity by means of attacks such as those which took place in this case."

The distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attacks paralysed computer systems by flooding them with a huge number of online requests. Victims' websites would be directed to a page displaying the message: "You've tried to bite the Anonymous hand. You angered the hive and now you are being stung."

Online payment website PayPal was targeted, at a cost to the company of £3.5 million.

Others hit by the attacks included Mastercard and Visa.

Anonymous initially targeted companies involved in anti-piracy and digital rights, including the British Recorded Music Industry (BPI), the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and four sites operated by the Ministry of Sound.

They then shifted their attention to payment sites which would not process donations to the Wau Holland Foundation, which is involved in raising funds for WikiLeaks.

Prosecutor Joel Smith said it was a "persistent campaign" designed to "cause damage, financial losses and press exposure".

Judge Testar told the court: "The purpose of these conspirators was to cause the websites of organisations to crash and therefore take them temporarily out of service."

He noted that their aims were not to cause permanent damage or to steal information from the sites and added: "The purpose was not commercial. It was activity by way of protest."

The DDoS attacks themselves were not particularly sophisticated, according to the judge.

"What was sophisticated was the lengths taken to protect the identities of those involved," said Judge Testar. "The investigators are really to be commended for breaking down the wall of anonymity that was put up in order to prevent the activity of these conspirators being interrupted."

The Ministry of Sound estimated the cost of the attack on their sites as being £9,000, while the IFPI's costs were more than £20,000 and the BPI's more than £4,000.

The financial impact on MasterCard and Visa were not revealed to the court. However, writing on an internet relay chat (IRC) channel to another user, Weatherhead boasted: "We have probably done some million pound of dmg (damage) to mc (MasterCard)."

At one point Gibson suggested the website of singer Lily Allen, now known by her married name Lily Cooper, as a possible target to Rhodes, who agreed with the idea. However, the attack never went ahead.

Judge Testar told the court: "They got themselves into a bit of an ideological twizzle. On one hand, they wanted to attack her because she had taken a stand against breach of copyright.

"But on the other hand, they didn't like the idea of attacking artists."

Weatherhead, who was studying at Northampton University at the time of the attacks, played "a leading role" and "was directing the activities of others", according to the judge.

"I'm satisfied that he was an important person in this conspiracy, certainly the most significant of those in the dock," he added.

Weatherhead used the online nickname "nerdo", the court was told, and his computer passwords were variations on the phrase: "Nerdo is the best/worst hacker in the world".

Mark Ruffell, defending Weatherhead, claimed his client was "addicted" to hacking.

He blamed Weatherhead's involvement in the cyber attacks on what he called "the nerd factor".

"It's that type of person who makes friends and finds an identity and generates a status in a virtual world," said Mr Ruffell.

He added that Weatherhead was a student "full of idealism and zeal" for his particular cause but has now turned away from the world of hacking, saying: "Never again."

Rhodes, the oldest of the group, also had an "ideological motive, not a financial motive", said his barrister, Nina Grahame.

He was described as being "hands on" and "closer to the coal face" than his co-defendants.

His involvement in Anonymous was due to "boredom", she added.

Rhodes' wife, who attended court to support her husband, had no idea of the illegal activities in which he was involved.

Gibson, who was not involved in the MasterCard, Visa or PayPal attacks, was also ordered to carry out 100 hours' community service as part of his sentence.

He was involved in the hacking for a shorter time than the others and left the group when he realised they intended to cause financial damage, the court was told.

Gibson, a York University graduate who achieved 14 GCSEs and 3 A-levels at high grades, was described as being "remorseful" for the role he played as an administrator for Anonymous.

The computers used by Weatherhead, Rhodes and Birchall to carry out the attacks will be taken away from them after the judge made a deprivation order.

Weatherhead had asked for the shell of his computer to be kept but the judge refused, saying to remove only the hard drive and leave the plastic casing intact would be too much work.

PA

News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
News
i100
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in What If
filmReview: Actor swaps Harry Potter for Cary Grant in What If
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment