British LulzSec 'hactivists' caused websites to crash across the world for their own amusement

Working from their bedrooms, they stole personal data from hundreds of thousands of people

Four "modern day pirates" launched cyber-attacks on the CIA and global corporations stealing huge amounts of sensitive data and causing websites to crash across the world for their own amusement, a court heard today.

The British computer hackers, belonging to a collective known as LulzSec, targeted News International, Sony, Nintendo and the FBI among other high profile victims in a series of sophisticated raids mounted from their bedroom computers.

Southwark Crown Court was told that Ryan Ackroyd, Jake Davis, Mustafa Al-Bassam and Ryan Cleary considered themselves to be "hacktivists", stealing vast quantities of personal information including passwords and credit card details as they penetrated the firewalls of some of the world's leading organisations.

They then posted the information on the LulzSec website and file-sharing sites.

Prosecutor Sandip Patel said the men - who pleaded guilty to a number of charges relating to unauthorised computer activity - were not motivated by politics such as international hacking group Anonymous but rather sought the attention their computer skills conferred on them.

"It's clear from the evidence that they intended to achieve extensive national and international notoriety and publicity," he said. "They saw themselves as latter-day pirates."

He added: "This is not about young immature men messing about. They are at the cutting edge of a contemporary and emerging species of criminal offender known as a cyber-criminal."

The organisation took its name from Lulz, which is internet slang for "laughs" and Sec referring to "security". LulzSec - whose motto was "We are legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us" - only existed for a few months in 2011 building up a massive international following including 355,000 Twitter followers.

Many made donations using the Bitcoin online currency system. But LulzSec officially disbanded in June announcing its decision with an internet message. The four men were all arrested by September, the court heard.

In one security breach alone it was alleged Sony lost details relating to 26.4m customers. The FBI and the CIA websites were crashed in orchestrated attacks including one called "Wipeout Wednesday".

Some of the onslaughts were carried out with other unknown hackers from groups said to include Anonymous and Internet Feds by using a remotely controlled network of up to one million "zombie" computers - hijacked without the knowledge of their owners.

Ackroyd, 26, from Mexborough, South Yorkshire, used the online persona of a 16-year-old girl called Kayla, pleaded guilty to one charge of carrying out an unauthorised act to impair the operation of a computer.

The court was told the former soldier had hacked into News International diverting readers of the Sun's website to a fake story about Rupert Murdoch committing suicide.

Al-Bassam, 18, from Peckham, south London, was still at school and used the alias tFlow, whilst Davis, 20, originally from Lerwick, Shetland, was alleged to be in charge of the group's media relations and went by the name of Topiary. Both previously pleaded guilty to hacking and launching cyber-attacks on a range of organisations, including the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

Cleary, 21, of Wickford, Essex, also known as ViraL, pleaded guilty to the same two charges as well as four separate charges including hacking into US air force computers at the Pentagon.

He also admitted possession of indecent images relating to child abuse. Cleary, who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome is alleged to have set up the zombie network for the three core members.

He was described as a "totally obsessed compulsive individual" who had been excluded from a series of schools and was living as a virtual recluse. Davis, who is facing possible extradition to the US, was said to have turned his life around and was working with arts organisations in London.

The hearing was adjourned until tomorrow.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'