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Conviction for distributed denial of service attacks

December 6, 2012, 3:43 pm

A 22-year-old man has been be convicted after organising distributed
denial of service (DDoS) attacks on a number of high profile companies
with three others. The four acted under the banner of “Anonymous”.

[D] Christopher Wetherhead (03.11.90) of Holly Road, Northampton was
found guilty of one count of 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 at
Southwark Crown Court.

In January and March this year three fellow conspirators pleaded guilty
to the same charge. They are:

[B] Jake Alexander Birchall (05.04.94 – 18ys) of Little Neston,
[E] Ashley Rhodes (07.12.84 – 27 ys) of Bolton Crescent, London SE5.
[F] Peter David Gibson (18.11.88 – 24 ys) of Castleton Road, Hartlepool,

Working under online nicknames including ‘Nerdo’ and ‘NikonElite’, the
group targeted a number of companies from the digital entertainment
industry that make up the anti-piracy lobby (i.e. those taking legal
actions against illegal file-sharing), including ‘Ministry of Sound’ and
the ‘British Phonographic Industry’. The group then switched their
attentions to companies including Mastercard and PayPal after their
withdrawal of services from Wikileaks.

Using social media networks including Facebook and Twitter to recruit
followers and publicise the attacks, the defendants provided the
infrastructure and tools for followers to attack the companies’ websites
and commercial online presence.

The aim of a DDoS attack is to make a website inaccessible to its
legitimate customers by bombarding the site with multiple requests
simultaneously. This causes the website to overload and has the effect
of denying the owner of the website the ability to deliver legitimate
service that the site was created for. This activity tends to utilise a
network or networks of compromised computers, known as a ‘botnet’ (a
robot network). These ‘botnets’ vary in the number of computers they
contain, but can be controlled and used to launch the attacks, without
the owner of the computer knowing that their machine is taking part,
although in this case many of the participants voluntarily added their
machines to the attacks at the instigation of Wetherhead and his

On 27 January 2011, [B/D/E] were arrested by officers from the Police
Central e-Crime Unit. On 6 April 2011 [F] was arrested in connection
with the investigation.

[B/D/E/F] were subsequently charged as above.

[A], a boy then aged 15 yrs, was referred to the Surrey Youth Justice
Board and issued with a final warning for conspiracy to do an
unauthorised act in relation to a computer, with intent to impair the
operation of any computer or prevent or hinder access to any programme
or data held in a computer or to impair the operation of any such
programme or the reliability of such data – contrary to Section 1(1) of
the Criminal Law Act 1977.

[C], a 19 year old man, was released with no further action.

[B/D/E/F] are scheduled to return to Southwark Crown Court for
pre-sentence reports on 14 January 2013.

DCI Terry Wilson of the Police Central e-Crime Unit, said: “These are
important convictions which confirm this type of activity is not merely
civil protest but is serious criminal conduct.

“The activity has not only significant financial and reputational
implications to businesses endeavouring to operate online but also an
effect on the general public’s right to access online services.

“These men are some of the orchestrators and coordinators who provide
the infrastructure without which these crimes could not take place.”

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