A key member of the infamous “Anonymous” hacking group that carried out cyber attacks on Paypal and other companies has been convicted.
Christopher Weatherhead, 22, a university student, was described as a core operator in the “distributed denial of service attacks.”
Along with other “Anonymous” members Ashley Rhodes, 28, Peter Gibson, 24, Ashley Rhodes, 28, and Jake Birchall, 18, the four men conspired to bombard websites with messages and requests in what they called “Operation Payback.”
Weatherhead — who used the alias “Nerdo” online — was convicted on one count of conspiracy to impair the operation of computers under the Criminal Law Act 1977.
“Anonymous” originally targeted the music industry over its anti-piracy stance. But the group changed focus after the backlash against Wikileaks and its co-founder Julian Assange following Wikileaks’ release of classified data in December 2010.
In total, “Anonymous” spent a total of 10 days targeting Paypal, eventually causing losses of £3.5 million ($ 5.6 million).
The UK’s Guardian Onlinereports that:
“PayPal was attacked after it decided not to process payments on behalf of the Wau Holland Foundation, an organisation involved in raising funds for WikiLeaks.”
The group also went after Visa, Mastercard and the British Recorded Music Industry (BPI). Visitors to the websites of these companies would find themselves directed to a page displaying a message that read:
“You’ve tried to bite the Anonymous hand. You angered the hive and now you are being stung.”
It was revealed in London’s Southwark court that Weatherhead spent up to 10 hours a day online and dreamed of working for Amazon or Google.
Right up until his conviction the 22-year-old denied he played any part in any attacks. Instead, he claimed he was the “communications manager” for “Anonymous” and simply created the online chat rooms where cyber attacks were planned.
Weatherhead told the court that he was only observed when others carried out their attack on the website of the music event promoters Ministry of Sound in October 2010.
“I like the freedom of information that is on the web” Weatherhead told the court. “I enjoy spending a lot of time on Wikipedia reading things. When you can’t get information I feel abashed by that.”
A jury of 11 deliberated for around two hours on Thursday before returning a guilty verdict against Weatherhead for his “integral role” in the attacks. Reportedly when the verdict was read Weatherhead looked at the floor, then at his parents sitting in court.
After informing Weatherhead that he would required to return to court for sentencing in January with his three co-conspirators, presiding Judge Peter Testar said:
“I want to have as much information as possible before deciding what should happen in the case of these four men. think these are serious offences to my mind, and I hope the defendant understands that.”
Weatherhead was freed on bail until next year. He is currently banned from using internet chat forums or posting online using any names but his own.
In addition, he was electronically tagged and ordered to observe a midnight to 4 am curfew at his parents’ home.