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Cyber-attack weblink 'malicious'

A Twitter-user signposted cyber-attacks which crippled the Home Office website by flooding it with huge amounts of internet traffic, a jury has heard.

Mark Johnson is alleged to have posted a link in his social media account which meant other web users could join in with the hacking attack launched by the cyber activists group Anonymous, in 2012.

He denies a charge under the Computer Misuse Act of encouraging or assisting a distributed denial of service (Ddos) attack against the Home Office website and Home Secretary Theresa May's own constituency webpage, putting both out of commission.

Timothy Devlin, for the Crown, said that during a concerted two-day cyber attack "8,347 connections" hit the Home Office site in one half-hour period.

The sheer weight of connections meant that an alternative "disaster recovery" version of the site had to be put online in place of the main site, he added.

The Crown alleges Johnson of Josiah Wedgwood Street, in Stoke-on-Trent, assisted in both web attacks by posting a "malicious" weblink through his Twitter account which, when clicked, allowed a web-user to add their connection to the cyber assault.

"We say Mark Johnson published that link in his Twitter account," said Mr Devlin.

"He was saying 'if you want to help close down the Home Office and Theresa May's website, here's the link'."

He added: "We say Mark Johnson published links on Twitter for people to get involved in these joint attacks."

Mr Devlin today explained to the trial jury at Birmingham Crown Court, at the start of his trial, that Johnson did not deny supporting some of global hacking group Anonymous' campaigns.

The prosecution counsel also said the 44-year-old's Twitter account contained a picture of one of the hacking group's signature images, a stylised Guy Fawkes mask.

Mr Devlin said it was Johnson's defence that his social media account had been hacked, and link had been posted by someone else.

However, he added that after officers raided Johnson's home in Stoke and removed computers and electronic devices, the settings on his Twitter account were changed "from open, to closed."

"But his password remained the same," he said.

"If he had released that he had been hacked, he didn't do anything about it."

Mr Devlin added that a code retrieved from the cyber attack revealed the phrase "We are legion", which he explained was another signature of Anonymous - described in court as an international network of cyber activists or "hacktivists" opposed to internet censorship.

He added that the phrase related to a biblical tale involving a man possessed by demons, who tells Jesus: "My name is legion, for we are many."

Jurors also heard how in August, two months after the Home Office attack, Johnson posted a link to an Anonymous group YouTube video regarding another cyber attack, which this time targeted the San Francisco public transport system in the United States.

Later, the jury is set to hear from a prosecution cyber expert, with the trial expected to last a week.

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