Seaton Carew hacking group member sentenced

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A HARTLEPOOL man who was involved in a cyber group which carried out attacks on major websites has avoided an immediate prison sentence.

Peter Gibson, 24, of Castleton Road, Seaton Carew, admitted conspiring to impair the operation of computers between August 1, 2010, and January 22, 2011.

During a co-accused’s trial at Southwark Crown Court, it emerged that Gibson was joined by Christopher Weatherhead, 22, of Holly Road, Northampton, Ashley Rhodes, 28, of Bolton Crescent, Camberwell, and Jake Birchall, 18, from Chester, in a hacking group operating under the title Anonymous.

The so-called “hacktivists” took part in distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attacks, one of which cost the PayPal website £3.5 million.

The attacks paralysed computer systems by flooding them with an intolerable number of online requests.

Victims’ websites would be directed to a page displaying the message: “You’ve tried to bite the Anonymous hand. You angered the hive and now you are being stung.”

Northampton University student Weatherhead was convicted last month for taking part in the DDoS attacks, which also hit the sites of Visa, Mastercard, Ministry of Sound, the British Recorded Music Industry and the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

He was jailed for 18 months while Rhodes was given a seven-month sentence after admitting the same charge.

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

He must also carry out 100 hours of unpaid work after it emerged he left Anonymous before the PayPal attack.

Birchall will be sentenced later after admitting the conspiracy.