Heavy jail terms for British members of global hacking gang

British members of LulzSec masterminded sophisticated cyberattacks in a three-month spree in 2011 that caused millions in damage

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 May, 2013, 2:17am


Some of the longest ever jail sentences for hacking were handed down to four British members of the global computer hackers' gang LulzSec, who masterminded a string of sophisticated cyberattacks on major institutions from their bedrooms.

The four bragged of being gods and caused millions of pounds of damage in a three-month spree in 2011.

The 32-month and 30-month sentences for, respectively, Ryan Cleary, 21, of Wickford in Essex and Iraqi war veteran Ryan Ackroyd, 26, of Mexborough in Yorkshire were among the most severe handed down by a British court for such offences. Jake Davis, 20, of Lerwick in Shetland, who acted as group spokesman, received a 24-month sentence in a young offenders' institution - equal to the previous longest given in 2003 to virus-writer Simon Vallor. All will serve at least half their sentences.

Another member of the group, Mustafa al-Bassam, 18, of Peckham in south London, received a 20-month sentence, suspended for two years, and 300 hours' community service.

Only James Jeffery, 27, a member of hacking collective Anonymous and an anti-abortion campaigner, has received a 32-month sentence before, for stealing the details of 10,000 women from Britain's largest pregnancy advisory clinic.

Judge Deborah Taylor told the four, who had pleaded guilty, that "given your capabilities, the risk [of reoffending] is real and substantial. The name LulzSec encapsulates your desire to cause embarrassment and disruption, while keeping your own identities hidden. You each played your role during a seven-month online campaign ... using your technical abilities to cause catastrophic losses for amusement".

The LulzSec name is a compound of "lulz"- hacker slang for laughter at others' discomfort - and "security".

A fifth member of the group, Hector Xavier Monsegur of New York - who was ostensibly its leader - is facing sentencing in the United States, where he could receive up to 124 years. He is due to be sentenced in August. The sixth member of the group, who went by the online handle of Avunit, has never been identified.

In a campaign that began in May 2011, the group - who never physically met while they were active - hacked into the websites of media companies including Sony, News International, PBS and Fox, and of games and pornography companies. They also used denial of service attacks against the sites of the CIA and the UK's Serious Organised Crime Agency, while taunting police and rival hackers who tried to identify them. Their exploits ended abruptly with the arrest in July 2011 of Davis in Shetland, an island off the north of Scotland.

The longest sentence was handed down to Cleary, who had always been thought of as peripheral to the group but provided a botnet of hundreds of thousands of PCs under his control to knock sites offline by flooding them with data. Taylor told Cleary that despite his diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome, "it's clear you did appreciate the harm being suffered by others" from attacks.

Cleary will be sentenced separately for the possession of 172 indecent images of children, found on his computer when he was arrested in June 2011.