A teenager sentenced over the world’s biggest cyber attack

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Seth Nolan Mcdonagh was sentenced at Southwark crown court to 240 hours of community service for the attack on anti-junk mail group Spamhaus in 2013 that slowed the internet around the world. Apparently this was the biggest cyber attack in history. Mcdonagh had already pleaded guilty to five charges but details could not be reported until last week’s sentencing hearing by which time he had turned 18.

The attack on Spamhaus began on 15 March 2013 and drew world-wide attention. The attack tracked sources of junk mail messages to help network administrators and law enforcement to block spam senders. It was a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack in which attackers bombarded servers with so many requests for data that they can no longer cope. This made them crash or stop working.

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The biggest and heavier attack ever recorded begun when Spamhaus called on anti-DDoS specialist Cloudflare for support. At its peak the attack was funnelling 300 gigabits of traffic every second to Spamhaus computers. The sheer volume of traffic caused problems for internet traffic internationally and particularly for LINX – the London Internet Exchange – which helps data hop from one network to another.

The prosecution said that Mcdonagh, who used the hacker alias “narko”, was described as a “gun for hire” who took down websites for those willing to pay, although other individuals the court heard may also have been involved. Amongst other sites he targeted was the BBC on 24 February 2013.

More than £72,000 had been discovered in Mcdonagh’s bank account after his arrest in April 2013 and source code used in the attacks was also found on machines in his house in London. 1,000 credit card numbers from German financial institutions were also found in his possession.

Mcdonagh’s criminal activity started when he was 13 years old according to the evidence presented in court. Ben Cooper, defending Mcdonagh, said his client had suffered from a severe mental illness at the time of the attack and had withdrawn from school, the wider world and even his own family.

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BBC reports that his family have since played a key role in supporting his recovery to the point where he is now completing his A-levels and hoping to go to university . Judge Pegden described the case as exceptional adding that the crimes were serious and sophisticated and unprecedented in scope hence he caused the world’s biggest cyber attack . The judge did not impose a custodial sentence saying Mcdonagh’s rehabilitation since his arrest was remarkable and that he had shown complete and genuine remorse. The judge added that there was virtually no risk of further harm or re-offending.

“I would like to thank the UK’s National Crime Agency for the enormous effort and resources it had dedicated to investigating Mcdonagh.”Richard Cox, chief information officer at Spamhaus said.

“I hope the case would make very clear the considerable benefit that can result from law enforcement working closely with industry.” He added.

“We fully appreciate the difficult predicament with which the sentencing judge was faced, and hope that anyone considering similar attacks will take heed of his remarks, that in any other circumstances such criminality would have resulted in a custodial sentence,” he said.

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Erick Vateta
Tech Editor at Kachwanya.com
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Erick Vateta is a lawyer by training, poet, script and creative writer by talent, a model, and tech enthusiast. He covers International tech trends, data security and cyber attacks.
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