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Anonymous cyber attackers jailed

Two self-styled "hacktivists" have been jailed for carrying out cyber attacks with hacking group Anonymous, one of which cost a website £3.5 million.

Christopher Weatherhead, 22, of Holly Road, Northampton, was given an 18-month sentence at Southwark Crown Court, London, after being found guilty of conspiring to impair the operation of computers between August 1, 2010 and January 22, 2011.

Ashley Rhodes, 28, of Bolton Crescent, Camberwell, south London, admitted the same charge and was jailed for seven months.

Co-defendant Peter Gibson, 24, of Castletown Road, Hartlepool, was deemed to have played a lesser role in the conspiracy, which he also admitted, and given a six-month suspended sentence.

Jake Birchall, 18, from Chester, will be sentenced on February 1. He had also admitted the conspiracy.

Weatherhead did not react as he was jailed but Rhodes sighed and leant his head back on the wall behind him. A relative of one of the four defendants was seen weeping outside the courtroom following the sentencing.

The websites that fell victim to the cyber attacks were chosen by Anonymous, as part of so-called Operation Payback, because the hackers did not agree with their views.

Judge Peter Testar said: "It is intolerable that when an individual or a group disagrees with a particular entity's activities they should be free to curtail that activity by means of attacks such as those which took place in this case."

The distributed denial of service, or DDoS, attacks paralysed computer systems by flooding them with a huge 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."

Online payment website PayPal was targeted, at a cost to the company of £3.5 million. Others hit by the attacks included Mastercard and Visa.

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