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Jail for Anonymous crew after PayPal web attacks

25 Jan 2013

Three members of Anonymous who launched a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on several big name companies have been sentenced to prison in the UK.

The DDoS attacks were part of "Operation Payback" protests in the wake of the financial blockade of Wikileaks.

Christopher Weatherhead, or Nerdo, 22, received a sentence of 18 months for his troubles, which we are told included inciting other protesters using social media like Facebook and Twitter.

Ashley Rhodes, 27, of London got a sentence of seven months, and Peter David Gibson, 24, of Cleveland got six months imprisonment suspended for two years and 100 hours of community service.

When the three were bailed in 2011, they were banned from the internet and prohibited from using their online names. 

The fourth man, 18 year old Jake Alexander Birchall, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit unauthorised acts with intent to impair, or with recklessness as to impairing, the operation of a computer, contrary to Section 3 of the Computer Misuse Act 1990, last year.

He will be sentenced on 1 February. According to the Metropolitan Police, the activists began hitting targets like the Ministry of Sound and the British Phonographic Industry before switching to Mastercard and PayPal.

According to the Met the three men, plus one more who will be sentenced next month, were members of the Anonymous hacktivist group.

"Perpetrators of distributed denial of service attacks laud them as civil protests but they can be incredibly damaging to the finances and reputations of online businesses," said detective chief inspector Terry Wilson of the Police Central e-Crime Unit.

"Simultaneously, they impact on the general public's ability to use online services. These men provided the infrastructure for such attacks. The sentences they have received are indicative of how serious the crime is and the tough approach the courts will take to such criminals."

During the trial PayPal alleged that the online sit-in at its web servers cost it £3.5m. The prosecutor said that the actions of the men were effective and costly.

"[They] waged a sophisticated and orchestrated campaign of online attacks that paralysed a series of targeted computer systems belonging to companies to which they took issue with, for whatever reason, and those attacks caused unprecedented harm," he said.

Anonymous is campaigning to have DDoS attacks recognised as a legitimate form of protest in the US. A White House petition with about two weeks left to run has around a quarter of the supporters that it requires for presidential consideration.

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Dave Neal

Dave Neal is a reporter at The INQUIRER. Previously he worked at, VNUnet, and IT Week in editor and journalist roles.

He started his career when the Y2K bug was a front page story and remains committed to covering the interesting world of technology news.

He left the world of office working four years ago and now represents The INQUIRER from home in Kent with his dog.

Dave has been quoted in papers including the London Metro.

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