Town man admits part in global internet chaos

A TOWN man has admitted his part in a cyber-scam which allegedly saw some of the world’s most high-profile firms left with multi-million pound losses.

Peter Gibson, 24, from Castleton Road, in Seaton Carew, was part of a hacking group operating under the name of Anonymous, a court heard.

Under the banner ‘Operation Payback’, Gibson and three others brought down websites by flooding them with messages and requests, it is alleged.

The campaign originally targeted music industry bodies as revenge for their anti-piracy stance, Southwark Crown Court heard.

But the court heard the gang changed their plan after the backlash against the leak of classified data by Julian Assange’s organisation in December 2010.

Their actions caused losses totalling £3.5m at the online payments firm, while sites belonging to Mastercard and recording industry bodies were also forced offline, it was heard.

Christopher Weatherhead, 22, of Northampton, is on trial accused of playing an “integral role” in the attacks.

Ashley Rhodes, 28, from Camberwell, Gibson, and an 18-year-old, who cannot be named, have already admitted their roles in the conspiracy.

Jurors heard Weatherhead, who used the online handle ‘Nerdo’, told others: “I think we should do something really bad” in the run-up to the hacking campaign.

“This case, simply put, is about hackers who used the internet to attack and disable computer systems, colloquially described as cyber-attackers or vandals,” said prosecutor Sandip Patel.

“It is the prosecution case that Christopher Weatherhead, the defendant, is a cyber-attacker, and that he, and others like him, waged a sophisticated and orchestrated campaign of online attacks that paralysed a series of targeted computer systems belonging to companies, to which they took issue with for whatever reason, that caused unprecedented harm.”

The Northampton University student and his three co-conspirators carried out distributed denial of services attacks against the companies, he added.

Mr Patel added: “The members of Anonymous describe themselves as hacktivists.

“They conducted online attacks against computer systems which they took the view needed to be dealt with, taught a lesson.”

He said ‘Operation Payback’ had originally targeted companies involved in the music industry and opponents of internet piracy, but was later ‘broadened’ to include new objectives, including PayPal.

He added: “A number of organisations were targeted some of which have contacted the police and confirmed the level of damage caused by such attacks.

“There were many more, we know that from chat logs, but they may not have known what had happened to them.”

Mr Patel said the attack on PayPal took place between December 8-17, 2010, and it took more than 100 staff to repair it.

“PayPal also had to pay for further software and hardware to defend against, and prevent similar future attacks, as well as engaging consulting services to defend against the initial attack,” he went on.

“All of that and the consequent loss in trading lead to a total loss to PayPal of around $5.6m (£3.5m).”

Four websites operated by Ministry of Sound were also attacked between October 3-6, 2010.

“As a consequence of the attack they suffered loss of reputation and sales,” said Mr Patel.”

After Weatherhead’s computer was seized by police, Gibson and the two others were arrested as part of the investigation.

Gibson, whose nickname was Peter, was involved in the administration and maintenance of an IRC server that was “used as a forum for conspiratorial discussions for attacks which could and did take place”.

Mr Patel added: “In the aftermath of the successful attack on the Ministry of Sound, Gibson suggested attacking the website of the musician Lily Allen, in retaliation to her stance on anti-piracy.”

Weatherhead denies one count of conspiracy to impair the operation of computers between August 1, 2010 and January 27 last year.

Gibson, Rhodes and the 18-year-old, from Chester, have pleaded guilty to the same charge.

The trial continues.The trial continues.