British Teen Receives 12-Month Suspended Sentence in Online-Gambling Hacking Case

An attempt to take down a European online-gambling site in an episode of teenage cyber-vandalism has resulted in a 19-year-old from Great Britain receiving a 12-month suspended sentence and a nominal £200 fine for court costs for his hacking games.

hacker_inside_logoNottingham-area youth Max Whitehouse, now 19, was found guilty of the hacking scheme in which he launched a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack against an unnamed, UK-facing online gambling site in early 2014.  The attack cost the UK-licensed site an estimated £18,000 in added operational expense and lost revenue due to brief downtime associated with the attack.  The attack, in turn, was quickly traced to Whitehouse, who bragged about his planned attack online on his mother’s Twitter account.

Whitehouse, who was 17 when he planned and carried out the attack, seemingly had no valid reason for doing soother than to see if he could do it.  A raid on Whitehouse’s residence also turned up several weapons which are illegal for private ownership under British law, including CS (tear gas) canisters, eight sets of brass knuckles, and even a stun gun designed and camouflaged as an iPhone.  All of the weapons had been obtained online by Whitehouse through underground Chinese suppliers and were forfeited to the authorities as part of the case.

The ruling regarding the 12-month suspended sentence was handed down in Nottingham Crown Court on Friday by Queens Court Judge Michael Stokes, who admonished Whitehouse for living his life in front of a computer screen. “He has been living a virtual life and not a real life, Judge Stokes told the court, according to Nottingham-area news reports.  “He needed to get out more and play rugby or something.”

“You need to get out more and live,” Judge Stokes told Whitehouse directly.  And referring to the miscellaneous weaponry, Stokes added, “You were, at the relevant time, extremely naive. I am satisfied you had no intention whatsoever of selling or distributing any of those items.”

Whitehouse formally pled guilty to obtaining and possessing the personal weapons, as well pleading guilty to the separate charge, regarding his targeting of the online-gambling site, of carrying out an unauthorized and reckless act with intent to impair computer operations.  The sentence on the latter charge could have been as high as ten years, had Judge Stokes determined more malicious intent or prior history of bad acts was involved.

Whether or not the unnamed company pursues a civil action to receive compensation for its estimated £18,000 in losses connected to the DDoS attack wasn’t clear.  Online-gambling sites around the globe have been beset by such attacks since the industry itself was launched.  Whitehouse’s DDoS atack was unusual in that it came from only the third- or fourth-largest channel normally launching such attacks against online sites.  The vast majority of such DDoS attacks are done by international crime groups or individuals seeking blackmail payments from the targeted sites.  Those attacks are far more damaging and are actually harder to trace to their originating source, usually buried in other countries beneath several layers of obfuscating disinformation.

Other groups known to have targeted online gambling sites include a few examples of online poker players doing so themselves, after entering large pots against opponents, hoping to force the opponent to run out of time and thus have the pot awarded to the player launching the attack.  Yet another source of such attacks is political motivation, as in an example from 2009 wherein a large US-facing poker-news portal was knocked offline for nearly two days after members of a radical-right, anti-gambling groups filed false claims with major upstream ISPs that the site was hosting child porn.

The sort of attack launched by Whitehouse falls into a smaller, fourth group, the just-for-kicks assortment that simply takes advantage of the availability of certain software programs used for launching such DDoS attacks and then launches those attacks, if out of nothing more than curiosity or a misplaced desire to create damage.

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