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)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor