Hackers ran up bills of pounds 25,000 for victims: Two unemployed men who communicated by codeword but never met used cheap computers to hack into specialist databases around the world

TWO YOUNG unemployed men were able to spend hours a day illegally reading the confidential databases of banks and universities around the world, a court was told yesterday.

Using cheap personal computers at home, Neil Woods, 26, of Chadderton, Oldham, Greater Manchester, and Karl Strickland, 22, from Liverpool, who 'spoke' on screen under codenames but never met, ran up bills for legitimate users running to tens of thousands of pounds over two years, Southwark Crown Court in south London was told.

They swapped other people's user identifications and authorisation codes enabling them to dial into systems belonging to companies, education establishments, British Telecom, the United States space agency Nasa, and the European Community. They kept copies on disk of much of their hundreds of hours of hacking.

There was evidence in the case referring to networks in the US, France, Iceland and Germany, James Richardson, for the prosecution, said. Both had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to conspiring to obtain telegraphic services dishonestly, and engaging in the unauthorised publication of computer information.

Woods, a graduate in computer science from Manchester University, also admitted causing damage to a computer owned by the then Polytechnic of Central London.

Mr Richardson told Judge Michael Harris that Woods, known in the hacking world as 'pad', and Strickland, nicknamed 'Gandalf' (the wizard in Tolkien's Lord of the Rings), were frequent illegal users of Janet, an education network in Britain linking universities, polytechnics and other academic institutions. The court was told how he had gained access by telephone to computers at the Polytechnic of Central London and had changed the message when users signed on to read simply 'Hi'.

When engineers had investigated the fault they were greeted with the message 'We are the Janet hackers.'

Mr Richardson said that the computer's makers had quoted a price of pounds 230,000 to rid the system of the faults. But he added that the authorities, finding the system was still workable, had in fact decided not to pay for the repairs.

The hackers also ran up huge bills for legitimate users with accounts at PSS, a British Telecom computer network. 'Many of the companies and organisations whose user identifications were being wrongly used were unaware of their unauthorised use because of the difficulty distinguishing between authorised and unauthorised activity,' Mr Richardson said. 'Bearing in mind charges relating to just two companies for two quarters, when bills of over pounds 7,000 were run up . . . the court can be satisfied that the value of the charges rounded down to the very lowest figure would have been pounds 25,000.' During one of their exchanges on computer, Woods typed on his keyboard: 'We want to be full-time hackers.' Strickland replied: 'If it moves, hack it.'

Mr Richardson said that during other sessions the two spoke of 'abusing' computer systems for hours and of 'smashing' data bases. On one occasion Strickland 'taunted' a computer operator who was logged on to the system he had hacked into.

Mr Richardson said that Strickland had correctly noted that running up someone else's telephone bill 'must be illegal'. However, when Woods said he was assured by another hacker that the activity was not illegal, Strickland decided to carry on.

At one stage Woods complained of being short of money and possibly needing to find a job. Strickland replied: 'I should, too, but I do not like the idea of work.'

In March, Paul Bedworth, a Yorkshire schoolboy who regularly communicated with Woods and Strickland, was cleared of similar charges by a jury, after a 15-day trial. Mr Bedworth, now 19 and a student of artificial intelligence at Edinburgh University, said in his defence that he had become addicted to hacking.

The case is expected to end today.

(Photographs omitted)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?