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Computer equipment seized from home of Darlington 16-year-old following hacking attempt
A BORED teenager who joined a computer hacking group in his summer holidays risked being arrested by MI5 after trying to break into a North-East police force’s computer system.
The 16-year-old’s attempts to penetrate the Durham Police computer network may also have brought him to the attention of the FBI.
He repeatedly tried to access the force’s network after joining an online hacking group during the school summer holidays – leading to a lengthy investigation culminating in a team from the fraud squad raiding his Darlington home.
As his bewildered parents looked on, experts removed computer equipment, games consoles and mobile phones for further examination.
The terrified youngster, who left school in May, told detectives that he had only joined an online hacking organisation for something to do.
He claimed to have stumbled across the hackers while browsing the internet and unwittingly became involved without realising the full implications.
But his activities nearly landed him in trouble with the FBI. Had he tried to hack the police in America he could have faced extradition and a lengthy jail term. Another Briton, Gary McKinnon is fighting extradition to the US where he faces seven counts of computer-related crime, each of which carries a potential ten-year jail sentence.
In the UK, The Terrorism Act 2000 also makes computer hacking a potential act of terrorism.
Luckily for the Darlington youth, calmer heads prevailed.
He was arrested and taken before chiefs at Durham Police’s headquarters to explain his actions as part of Darlington Borough Council’s Restorative Justice scheme.
Deputy Chief Constable Michael Barton told the teen that he had put himself in an extremely vulnerable position, and may have inadvertently brought himself to the attention of MI5, MI6 and the FBI who actively monitor internet hacking forums.
Mr Barton said: “Online groups can prey on individuals with time on their hands, enticing them to perform computer attacks without them being aware of the serious consequences of hacking – which is a criminal offence.”
A Durham Police spokeswoman said that in the interests of security, the force could not give specific details of the youth’s offence, or the steps put in place to prevent a similar event happening again.
As it was his first offence, the teen was not charged but was instead asked to work with Darlington Borough Council’s Youth Offending Service to complete restorative justice sessions in which offenders meet their victims.
Councillor Cyndi Hughes, the council’s cabinet member for children and young people, said: “Restorative meetings prick a young person’s conscience and open their eyes to the feelings of others and how victims are affected by their actions.”
Intelligence agencies in the UK and the US are leading an international hunt for members of Anonymous, a cybergroup that targets corporate and government websites.
In recent months they have stepped up their surveillance after four members of the international computer hacking group LulzSec were charged with conspiracy.
As part of the restorative programme, the council has suggested that the youth should put his digital expertise to better use by building a website for a local charity or community group, or by running a computer course at Darlington library.
Any charities who think they would benefit from the teen’s help can call Andrew Hancock, restorative justice co-ordinator for Darlington Youth Offending Service on 01325-346872.
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