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Fame-seeking teenage hacker who crashed FBI website avoids jail

Published 16/10/2015

Charlton Floate leaves Birmingham Crown Court after being sentenced to a total of eight months in jail, suspended for 18 months
Charlton Floate leaves Birmingham Crown Court after being sentenced to a total of eight months in jail, suspended for 18 months
Charlton Floate was sentenced at Birmingham Crown Court

An intelligent and fame-hungry teenage hacker who crashed FBI and Home Office websites has avoided jail.

Charlton Floate's actions cost the Government £15,000 and temporarily halted the reporting of internet crime in the US during targeted attacks masterminded from his family home in Solihull, West Midlands.

A judge said Floate played the "central role" in planning, recruiting for and launching damaging cyber assaults and "craving recognition" then boasted online of his success.

The 19-year-old self-styled internet and online marketing guru had previously admitted three charges under the Computer Misuse Act and two of possessing prohibited images.

Birmingham Crown Court today heard how he hacked a stranger's computer, seizing control of its webcam and recording a video of the victim performing a sex act before posting the taunting footage to YouTube where it was viewed more than 5,000 times.

Floate also hacked an American's work terminal in Seattle, taking over his computer remotely in another example of what the judge branded "gross invasions of privacy".

He then sent the man mocking online and mobile phone messages, having gleaned his number from hacked emails.

Sentencing, Recorder John Steel QC told slightly-built Floate, stood in the dock, that while immature he was "highly intelligent" and must have known what he was doing was wrong.

He was sentenced to a total of eight months in jail, suspended for 18 months and must also carry out 250 hours of unpaid work.

Judge Steel said: "These actions were wrong, serious and criminal. You must have known this from the outset. They are absolutely nothing to be proud of.

"Your actions corrupted the whole integrity of the important systems targeted when they went down after crashing.

"You must have realised as an intelligent young man, that attacks upon governmental websites were clearly entirely wrong and criminal and not merely a prank."

He added the hacks could have had "major consequences" and that it was fortunate nobody was harmed as a result.

A psychiatric report found Floate had "a strong sense of wanting to be famous and receive kudos for (his) achievements".

The quiet teenager, then aged 16, managed to cripple the Federal Bureau of Investigation's internet crime complaints centre (IC3) site for more than five hours, by flooding the server with huge amounts of data traffic.

In a statement read to court, the FBI said as a result of the hack on January 17, 2013 "the public was unable to submit complaints on the website, (and) unable to view public service announcements".

"Users including law enforcement officers were unable to view information about criminal complaints and it disrupted the working environment of 35 computers connected to the IC3 network and the email traffic for that organisation."

He then hacked the Home Office's gov.uk website putting it out of action for 83 minutes in a denial of service (DOS) attack on January 22, 2013, which crippled 16 linked sites in all.

In a statement read to court, the head of the Home Office's digital communication Phil Ramdeen set out the effects of the cyber attack.

He said: "The estimate is that the damage to the site cost approximately £10,000 in staff and supplier time to deal with the crisis of the immediate issue and a further £5-£10,000 post-incident analysis and reporting."

Other sites affected included the on-going Hillsborough Independent Inquiry Panel's, and ones relating to terror legislation and drug trafficking.

The UK Border Agency's site was also "partially affected".

Floate's barrister Charanjit Jutla said "curiosity got the better of him" but that the ramifications of the cyber attacks had left his client "publicly humiliated", and his hard-working family embarrassed.

"He understands what he did was exceptionally foolish," he said.

Mr Chutla also said it was plain other individuals "of far greater experience" were involved in the hack but accepted his client had played "a central role".

Floate, of Starbold Crescent, Knowle, also admitted having 111 prohibited cartoon-type images found on his laptop, showing what Mr Barry said was mainly "mature women engaging in sex acts with young boys".

"There's some suggestion of those storyboards relating to mothers having sex with their sons," he added.

It also emerged that when aged 16, Floate was cautioned for religiously aggravated disorder after going inside the Church of Scientology in Birmingham with others, chanting slogans and wearing Guy Fawkes masks which the prosecutor said was widely associated with hacktivist group Anonymous.

Outside court, Floate said: "I am really sorry for what I did, I just want to move on with my life."

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