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Northampton ‘hacktivist’ jailed for PayPal attack

Christopher Weatherhead, of Holly Road, Abington

Christopher Weatherhead, of Holly Road, Abington

A student from Northampton has today been jailed for 18 months for launching a series of cyber attacks that cost the website PayPal £3.5 million.

Christopher Weatherhead, aged 22, of Holly Road, Abington, was studying at the University of Northampton when he carried out the attacks as part of hacking group Anonymous, which also targeted other sites including MasterCard, Visa and Ministry of Sound.

He was one of two self-styled “hacktivists” jailed today for carrying out cyber attacks.

Weatherhead was given an 18-month sentence at Southwark Crown Court, London, after being found guilty of conspiring to impair the operation of computers between August 1, 2010 and January 22, 2011.

Weatherhead did not react as he was jailed.

The websites that fell victim to the cyber attacks were chosen by Anonymous, as part of so-called Operation Payback, because the hackers did not agree with their views.

Judge Peter Testar said: “It is 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.”

Ashley Rhodes, 28, of Bolton Crescent, Camberwell, south London, admitted the same charge and was jailed for seven months.

Co-defendant Peter Gibson, 24, of Castletown Road, Hartlepool, was deemed to have played a lesser role in the conspiracy, which he also admitted, and given a six-month suspended sentence.

Jake Birchall, 18, from Chester, will be sentenced later. He had also admitted the conspiracy.

The actions cost the online payment processing site PayPal “enormous economic harm”.

The court earlier heard PayPal was attacked after it decided not to process payments on behalf of the Wau Holland Foundation, an organisation involved in raising funds for WikiLeaks.

Three days later, on December 6, 2010, Weatherhead posted plans on an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel encouraging an attack on the online payments processing website.

He suggested they should “reap”, thought to mean “rape”, PayPal, the court heard.

Weatherhead devised a plan to make it look as though PayPal was attacking internet service providers (ISPs), which would make it impossible to prove that they had initiated the attack.

An online conversation between Weatherhead, who went by the online name of Nerdo, and someone called Neo said: “I think we should do something really bad, give spoofed IPs of PayPal etc, and get ISPs, it would be awesome, you know it’s true.”

Between December 8 and 17 2010, PayPal was the victim of a series of attacks “which caused considerable damage to its reputation and loss of trade”.

At least 104 employees from eBay, the parent company of PayPal, were employed to work on issues directly related to the attack for three weeks afterwards.

Weatherhead “played a central and integral role in the overall effectiveness” of the cyber campaign.

PayPal also had to pay for further software and hardware to defend against similar future attacks, which, combined with the loss of trading, led to the £3.5 million loss.

During a trial last year, it was claimed the case showed the “dark side” of the internet and the group’s attacks were “split into organised and co-ordinated attacks almost along military lines”.

 

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