Four British men who belonged to a splinter group of “Anonymous,” an underground organization suspected of perpetrating cyber attacks on sensitive organizations in the United Kingdom and the United States, were imprisoned on Friday following an extensive manhunt by Britain’s Metropolitan Police in London and a plea bargain with the Crown Prosecution Service.
Southwark Crown Court heard how Ryan Cleary, Mustafa Al-Bassam, Jake Davis and Ryan Ackroyd — all members of hacking group Anonymous — met online and created the offshoot group LulzSec with a fifth suspect living in the United States, as well as a number of other people yet to be apprehended, according to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
The suspects were pleaded guilty to launching a series of hacking attacks on high-profile targets. Many of their attacks involved thousands of virus-infected computers simultaneously sending countless requests to a single computer hosting a web site, so that it is overloaded and was removed from the Internet.
Their hacking attacks usually involved confidential data being extracted and published online for others to access and read. They are also suspected of hacking into the system belonging to the Central Intelligence Agency.
While Ackroyd was responsible for researching and launching many of their hacks, Cleary assisted by allowing the use of his Botnet — a system of virus-infected computers he controlled — to coordinate attacks.
Meanwhile Al-Bassam assisted in discovering and exploiting Internet vulnerabilities, and also created and controlled LulzSec’s web site. Davis acted as the group’s social-media specialist and managed their Twitter and Facebook accounts and the group’s press releases.
Their first victim was a major security firm in the U.S. whose web site pages they replaced with their own. They also accessed personal email accounts of employees, extracting personal data which they published online in February 2011.
Over the next five months, they carried out hacks on organizations causing damage and financial loss estimated to be in excess of £20 million. The prosecution also argued that they put lives at risk when they extracted and published the names and personal information of police officers in Salt Lake City, Utah.
On June 20, 2012, British police officers arrested Cleary at his home address. They seized numerous pieces of equipment, including Cleary’s computer, which contained “indecent images of children,” said police.
“Just five days later, the group announced their disbandment via a press release on their web site. However, on July 18, 2012, the remaining members, excluding Al-Bassam and Cleary, regrouped to launch an attack on a U.K. newspaper’s web site. They re-directed users to a fake article — written by Davis — claiming that News International’s Rupert Murdoch had died,” according to Scotland Yard inspectors.
Al-Bassam was arrested on July 19, 2012, Davis was arrested on July 27, 2012 and Ackroyd was arrested on Sept. 1, 2012. Al-Bassam was arrested on July 19, 2012. All four members subsequently made a plea deal and were sentenced on Friday to a total of seven years.