A U.S. federal grand jury has indicted British citizen Ryan Cleary on charges of orchestrating a hacking spree last year, victimizing Sony Pictures Entertainment, Fox Entertainment Group, and others.
The indictment was filed on Tuesday, June 12, in Los Angeles District Court, alleging Cleary ran a powerful botnet used to execute DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks, vandalize Web sites, and steal sensitive data as part of the hacking group Lulz Security, commonly referred to as LulzSec.
LulzSec is a branch of the infamous Anonymous group, and drew heavy scrutiny from law enforcement authorities worldwide after a series of successful attacks and consistent boldness, often flaunted through its Twitter account.
Back in June 2011, 20-year-old Ryan Cleary was arrested at his home in Wickford, England, for allegedly contributing to the attacks against Britain's Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA). He is now charged in the UK with five computer-related offenses and accused of distributing botnet programs to attack SOCA and Web sites of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry and the British Phonographic Industry. The U.S. will wait for the legal proceedings to end in the UK and then evaluate whether to request Cleary's extradition, said a spokeswoman for the FBI.
Cleary, who suffers from Aspergers Syndrome, a type of high-functioning autism, is now in jail, awaiting trial. A while ago, The Guardian reported that Cleary was arrested again in March, after breaching his bail conditions by going online and contacting former LulzSec leader Hector Xavier Monsegur.
Monsegur, also known as "Sabu," was secretly arrested by the FBI and cooperated with the Bureau, providing information that led to several LulzSec arrests, including of one American citizen and four other men in the UK in March. Monsegur pleaded guilty to various hacking charges in August 2011, including attacks against HBGary Federal, the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), Fox, and Sony Pictures.
Cleary is accused of hacking or stealing data from Fox, PBS, Sony, Riot Games, and SOCA, and charged with one count of conspiracy and two counts of unauthorized impairment of a protected computer. The 20-year-old hacker could face up to 25 years in prison if he is convicted.
According to the indictment, Cleary allegedly controlled a botnet, i.e. a network of hacked computers that can be remotely controlled, that may have consisted of hundreds of thousands of computers. Moreover, he is also accused of exploiting security vulnerabilities on computer networks, obtaining sensitive information, and coordinating the publishing of that information. In one instance, prosecutors allege Cleary stole the personal data of people registered to receive information on auditions for The X Factor.