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Sunderland student jailed after major Northumbria Police computer hacking probe

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A STUDENT is behind bars after he refused to hand over his computer password – despite a judge saying it was in the interests of national security.

Computer science student Christopher Wilson came to the attention of the authorities when a university vice-chancellor received an e-mail containing gun death threats, Northumbria Police computer systems were hacked and plans to infiltrate the Serious Organised Crime Agency’s secret files were uncovered.

The 22-year-old, who has Asperger’s syndrome, refused police requests to hand over passwords to allow access to his computer and detectives made a special application to Crown Court judge Roger Thorn QC forcing him to do so.

But Newcastle Crown Court heard Wilson refused to give the authorities the access they demanded, and provided them with more than 50 fake passwords.

Jailing him for six months, Judge Simon Hickey told him: “Despite numerous attempts by the authorities to obtain passwords from you in order to investigate, what you did was evade giving any details. Police asked you time and again, served you with a notice and you still did not give them the password.”

Wilson, of Mitford Close, Washington, had admitted failing to disclose a password in breach of Regulatory Investigatory Powers Act 2000.

The offence, under anti-terrorist legislation, carries a maximum sentence of five years behind bars.

Prosecutor Neil Pallister told the court it was in October 2012 when the vice-chancellor of Newcastle University received an e-mail saying a gunman would kill university staff. The user name of the sender was Catch-22 and led police to Northumbria University student Wilson, who denied making any such threats.

Officers seized his computer but were unable to access it due to the sophisticated password protection installed.

The court heard investigations linked the university threat to a call made to Northumbria Police, warning that their computer systems were about to be bombarded and brought down.

The police website did come under an eight-minute attack, which brought the system to a standstill for four minutes and caused hours of chaos.

The warning call made to the force came from a Skype account registered to Wilson, who was re-arrested in January last year and had his laptop and telephone seized.

He admitted making the call, using a voice-changing device but denied he was responsible for the cyber attack.

Wilson’s devices contained messages boasting “nobody cares about hacking, there are real criminals to deal with” and contained plans to obtain passwords for the Serious Organised Crime Agency and university files.

One message said: “I am committing a serious organised crime”.

Mr Pallister added: “Effectively, the crown’s case is, the only appropriate inference to draw from the defendant’s refusal to disclose the password to allow access to the computer is it would have revealed activity of the type mentioned in the messaging, namely hacking of police, Serious Organised Crime Agency and university websites.”

 
 
 

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