U.K. Jails Anonymous Pair For Cyber Attacks

Wikileaks op4 U.K. Jails Anonymous Pair For Cyber Attacks

It’s been more than two years since the hacktivist and trolling community Anonymous grabbed headlines with its explosive cyber attacks against MasterCard, Visa and PayPal. Now for the first time in the United Kingdom, two people accused of organizing those attacks from their home computers have been sentenced to more than two years combined in jail.

A crown court judge today sentenced Christopher Weatherhead, 22, to 18 months in prison, and Ashley Rhodes, 28, to 7 months. Both were accused of carrying out distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, which refer to flooding web applications with so many online requests that they temporarily shut down. In December 2010, the websites Mastercard.com, Visa.com and PayPal.com were temporarily paralyzed after thousands of volunteers joined in Anonymous chat rooms and downloaded a simple program that allowed them to spam these sites with junk traffic.

A handful of supporters with botnets, large networks of thousands of zombie computers, were also integral to making these sites unavailable. Data gathered by security researchers showed that upwards of 5,000 people were involved in these attacks in one way or another — many calling them digital sit-ins and thinking they were perfectly legal — but Weatherhead and Rhodes are the first to be prosecuted and sentenced for them in the United Kingdom. Weatherhead, who was known as Nerdo online, was also one of several administrators of the so-called AnonOps real-time chat network, where volunteers discussed targets and other forms of protest by Anonymous’ nebulous community.

His and Rhodes’ exploits fall under the umbrella of Operation Payback, a series of cyber attacks that occurred between August 2010 and January 2011, involving between dozens and thousands of people at any one time. Payback started off simply enough — as a an attempt to take revenge for copyright companies trying take down BitTorent site The Pirate Bay in the summer of 2010. These spiralled into more DDoS attacks on copyright companies themselves, including websites for the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry and the British Phonographic Industry.

In December 2010, he campaign took a whole new direction when WikiLeaks released thousands of U.S. diplomatic cables and caused a media storm, Julian Assange was arrested and PayPal blocked donations to the whistleblower organization. The AnonOps chat administrators were among those who helped organize a cyber attack against PayPal in protest, and later, other financial companies that had blocked donations. With the Wikileaks story having struck a nerve with so many around the wold, thousands were suddenly joining in the attacks from the comfort of their laptops and desktops.

On Wednesday, Judge Peter Testar told Weatherhead and Rhodes that it was “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 International Federation of the Phonographic Industry estimated that the Operation Payback cyer attacks had cost it more than £20,000, while PayPal claimed the attacks cost it £3.5 million.

A co-defendant, Peter Gibson, who was known as “Peter” in the Anonymous online community, was given a six-month sentence, suspended for two years, according to BBC News. Fellow defendant Jake Birchall, who previously could not be named because he was a minor, will be sentenced on Feb. 1.

Separately, four other men involved with Anonymous attacks and accused of founding the LulzSec hacker group will go on trial this April in London. They face more serious accusations that include hacking into the servers of Sony Pictures and PBS, DDoS-ing the website of the CIA and carrying out a devastating attack on cyber security firm HBGary Federal in February 2011.

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U.K. Jails Anonymous Pair For Cyber Attacks


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