Front-room hacker jailed
Tuesday 23 November 2010
A computer hacker who accessed highly personal data and photographs in a sophisticated email scam from his mother's front room was jailed for 18 months today.
Matthew Anderson, 33, was a key member of an international gang who abused his skills as a computer security expert to target businesses and individuals with spam containing hidden viruses.
He controlled victims' webcam devices remotely to see inside their homes, at one point boasting to a friend that he made a teenage girl cry by doing so.
Files he saved on his own computer included webcam images of a girl in school uniform, a family photograph of a mother and her newborn baby in hospital and intimate pictures of a sexual nature.
Anderson, who admitted an offence under the Computer Misuse Act, appeared at Southwark Crown Court in central London.
Sentencing, Judge Geoffrey Rivlin said Anderson's offending was on an "almost unimaginable scale".
He said: "Your motivation throughout, apart from the relatively small sums of money that you obtained by way of payment from the business leads, was the pleasure and satisfaction that you derived from achieving such a massive invasion into the personal lives of so many others and also the sense of power that invasion gave you.
"Whilst you may not have been engaged in fraud, it is fair to say that in an age in which computers play such an important part in the lives of so many people and businesses, an offence of this nature inevitably raises great concern and consternation."
He added: "Conduct of this kind must be deterred. Plainly only a custodial sentence is justified for an offence of this nature."
Judge Rivlin QC said the number of emails sent out by Anderson as part of the scam totalled tens of millions.
But he said there was no evidence Anderson used the material he harvested for fraud or identity theft.
Instead, the father-of-five "selectively and electively" saved personal information to his computer, the judge added.
"It's difficult to conceive of a greater invasion of privacy," Judge Rivlin said.
Anderson, from Keith, Banffshire, Scotland, also saved CVs, wills and confidential medical reports relating to a seven-year-old boy with autism on his computer.
Judge Rivlin said Anderson would have faced a jail sentence twice as long had he committed the offences under the most recent law, the Police and Justice Act 2006.
Major national and international organisations, including Macmillan Publishers, car firm Toyota and the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, were also targeted in what prosecutor Hugh Davies described yesterday as a "fundamental breach of security".
Mr Davies said: "The conduct involved the repeated distribution of cleverly disguised emails, measured by the million, if not tens of millions, bearing sophisticated viruses."
Anderson used a computer at his mother's home in rural Scotland to compose and distribute millions of spam messages.
He used online profile names including aobuluz and warpigs, and operated behind the front of Optom Security, which offered security software online.
The court heard Anderson altered the computer of a teenage girl and accessed her webcam, telling a friend online that he took pictures of her crying.
Anderson, who told another friend his scam would "hit the news big time", was caught after an investigation by Scotland Yard and authorities in Finland into a gang writing computer viruses to order.
Investigators discovered that the so-called m00p group was infecting computers using viruses attached to unsolicited commercial emails.
Mr Davies said they were "at the cutting edge of international viral emails of this sort", describing Anderson as being "part of the top-end international hacking community".
Simon Ward, defending, said in court yesterday that Anderson joined online chatrooms after being left housebound by panic attacks in his early 20s.
He said he had been motivated by "the feeling of power that comes from the knowledge that you have control over something that others don't know you have the control of".
He said Anderson had been a "foolish young man" but had now matured and had the support of his partner, who sat in the public gallery for the hearing.
Anderson was told he would serve half of his 18-month sentence, and was ordered to pay £5,000 costs.
The judge commended the "major" police investigation in court, saying it was "conducted to the highest standard".
In October, Anderson pleaded guilty to one charge of causing unauthorised modifications to the contents of computers between September 2005 and June 2006.
The offence was committed when Anderson was on bail for attacking the computer systems of the British National Party and the Countryside Alliance.
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