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Lulzsec hackers' sentences could have been worse

Column Lucky the US isn't seeking extradition
Fri May 17 2013, 15:51
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WE ARE SEEING an increasing number of punishments being dished out to people associated with the internet hacktivist collective Anonymous.

Yesterday we saw four members of the self confessed "hackers for your entertainment" group Lulzsec sentenced and some pretty harsh words directed at them in the court.

"The actions of these Lulzsec hackers were cowardly and vindictive," said Andrew Hadik, London Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) reviewing lawyer.

"The harm they caused was foreseeable, extensive and intended. Indeed, they boasted of how clever they were with a complete disregard for the impact their actions had on real people's lives."

The four received various sentences for their assorted charges - Ryan Cleary, 32 months, Jake Davis, 24 months, Ryan Ackroyd, 30 months and Mustafa Al-Bassam, 20 months suspended for two years and 200 hours of unpaid work.

Lulzsec trampled all over high profile firms and their security systems and made its presence felt at outfits like News International and PBS. It revelled in what it did, but its actions were never for personal gain.

According to the court, what they did was very bad indeed. "Whilst aggressively protecting their own privacy and identities, they set out to hack and publish hundreds of thousands of innocent individuals' private details. Companies also suffered serious financial and reputational damage.

"A senior executive of one American company lost his job and had to move his young family because of death threats. Coordinating and carrying out these attacks from the safety of their own bedrooms may have made the group feel detached from the consequences of their actions," said Hadik yesterday.

"But to say it was all a bit of fun in no way reflects the reality of their actions. They were in fact committing serious criminal offences for which they have been successfully prosecuted. This case should serve as a warning to other cyber-criminals that they are not invincible."

They weren't invincible, of course, and the proof is in the porridge. We're supposed to snigger at them, I think, as we are told in tabloid reports that one of the got only a D in GSCE Information Technology. But they are young men and teenagers, and they won't be laughing when their sentences start.

Things could have been much worse for them of course. Lulzsec was a group that was active for 50 days, and took on organisations such as Rupert Murdoch's The Sun newspaper.

Whether you agree with its length or not, a maximum sentence of two years could be taken as light when you consider how others have fared in front of other, slightly further away courts.

Andrew Auernheimer, or Weev as he is known online, was sentenced in March on charges of hacking into AT&T servers and stealing email addresses and personal data belonging to iPad users.

Auernheimer was sentenced to 41 months, or almost three and a half years, followed by three years of supervised release. An accurate description of what he was found guilty of doing is guessing openly accessible website URLs and "pretending to be an iPad".

Cyber security pro Robert David Graham, expressed his surprise at the discrepancies in sentencing. "So the LulzSec guys who were vicious hackers got lighter prison sentances than Weev, who wasn't," he said.

Graham later added in a response to his tweet that it was indicative of injustice in the "American legal system in general".

Back in the UK and yesterday Lewys Stephen Martin was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty to blocking access to university and police websites.

Also in the UK is Gary McKinnon, but he was wanted by the US and lined up for extradition and a trial stateside. McKinnon's legal case twisted and turned for ten years after he was accused of hacking into NASA in search of UFOs. McKinnon's potential sentence was as much as 60 years.

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) said it was disappointed to be denied the opportunity to bring him to trial.

"The US is disappointed by the UK home secretary's decision not to extradite Gary McKinnon, particularly given the past decisions of the UK courts and prior home secretaries that he should face trial in the US," it said. "We note that the home secretary has described this case as exceptional and, thus, this decision does not set a precedent for future cases."

McKinnon was supported by lawyer Karen Todner, and she successfully prevented his extradition last year. Yesterday she was representing Ryan Cleary and said in a statement that it did not appear that the US would be coming after her client.

"We believe the pleas that were entered today do cover all aspects of Mr Cleary's criminality and therefore we do not anticipate that he will be in receipt of an application for extradition from the United States of America," she explained. µ


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