A teenage hacker made almost £300,000 from a computer program he created which was used to launch 1.7m attacks on websites around the world, the Old Bailey has been told.
Adam Mudd, who lived with his parents in Kings Langley, Hertfordshire, was said to have been more interested in his online status than the money brought in by his Titanium Stresser software.
The computer science student, who has Asperger syndrome, was 16 and “lost in an alternate reality” when he wrote the program in September 2013 after withdrawing from school to avoid bullying, the court heard.
The program was used in attacks on networks operated by schools, colleges, the universities of Cambridge, Essex and East Anglia and others, costing them millions of pounds trying to defend themselves, it is alleged.
The Old Bailey hearing coincided with a report by the National Crime Agency published on Friday which found that teenage hackers are motivated more by idealism and impressing their friends than obtaining money.
Mudd, now aged 20, charged users in US dollars or bitcoins to run the program, which inflicted distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on targeted websites. He has pleaded guilty to three charges involving impairing the operation of computers, contravening the Computer Misuse Act and concealing criminal property.
Jonathan Polnay, prosecuting, said the effect of the hacking program was global. Mudd himself carried out 594 DDoS attacks over an 18-month period. Of an attack on Mudd’s own West Herts College, Polnay said: “This was not a white hat, friendly test to see what was going on.”
There were eventually more than 112,000 registered users of Mudd’s program who hacked over 666,000 IP addresses. Of those, nearly 53,000 were in the UK. Among the targets was the fantasy game RuneScape, which had 25,000 attacks. It cost its owner company £6m to try to defend itself.
Other hacking targets included Minecraft, Xbox Live and the computer gamers’ communications tool TeamSpeak.
Polnay said: “This is a young man who lived at home. This is not a lavish lifestyle case. The motivation around this we tend to agree is about status. The money-making is by the by.”
When he was arrested in March 2015, Mudd was in his bedroom on his computer, which he refused to unlock before his father intervened.
Ben Cooper, representing Mudd, said his client had been sucked into the cyber world of online gaming and become “lost in an alternate reality” after withdrawing from school.
Mudd, who was expelled from college, had been offline for two years, which was a form of punishment for any computer-obsessed teenager, Cooper said.
Mudd, who was described as “bright and high-functioning”, now understood that what he did was wrong, but at the time he lacked empathy because of his condition, the court heard.
Cooper added: “This is someone seeking friendship and status within the gaming community.” Among his online peers there was an “element of bravado and showmanship”.
Since being expelled from college and while on bail, Mudd had worked long hours for low pay as a kitchen porter, the court heard. Cooper highlighted a probation report as he argued for a suspended sentence.
Mudd was supported by his mother and father, who sat in the well of the court. He is due to be sentenced next week.
Source: The Guardian