'Anonymous' hacker convicted over WikiLeaks revenge attack on PayPal

A British student has been convicted for playing part in DDoS attacks against PayPal in response to its blockage of funds meant for WikiLeaks. He denies that his role was "integral" in the attacks.

­Christopher Weatherhead, 22, also known as Nerdo, has been convicted by a jury, who decided he was a key figure in the late 2010 cyber attacks.

He was convicted on one count of conspiracy to impair the operation of computers, according to the 1977 UK Criminal Law Act.

The Anonymous hacking group carried out a series of direct denial of service attacks (better known as DDoS) against PayPal, MasterCard, Visa and other financial services corporations after their blockade on donations to the whistleblowing website WikiLeaks.

PayPal was targeted by Anonymous in December 2010 in retaliation to a ban on payments to the Wau Holland Foundation, which raised funds for WikiLeaks.

The attacks, part of so-called Operation Payback, are reported to have cost PayPal about $5.6 million.

Those visiting the websites of the targeted companies were shown the following message: “You've tried to bite the Anonymous hand. You angered the hive and now you are being stung," the Southwark Crown Court was told.

Weatherhead’s fellow Anonymous members Peter Gibson, 24, Ashley Rhodes, 28, and Jake Birchall, 18, had already pleaded guilty after they were arrested in 2011 by British police.

But the former Northampton University student says he was merely an observer, serving as an Anonymous chatrooms operator, but not taking part in the attacks, British media reported.

When questioned during the hearing, he admitted to sharing the Anonymous group's goals on opposing Internet censorship.

The judge reportedly threatened the young man with prison time, and asked him to provide “as much information as possible.”

The sentence for the four young men convicted over the Anonymous attacks will be announced at a later date, local media said.

In the meantime, Weatherhead, who was freed on bail until sentencing, has been electronically tagged and ordered to display his identity when posting online. He’s also subject to a curfew at his parents’ home.

Corporations vs. ‘little people?’

The British student’s conviction is not just linked to Anonymous or WikiLeaks – it also brings up the topic of corporations against ‘little people,’ RT’s Laura Smith reported from London.

“Computer activists here in the UK are saying that criminal justice system really by finding Christopher Weatherhead guilty is sending a message that financial institutions can cut off organizations with impunity, but when the people try to fight back, the full force of the law comes down on them,” Smith said.

The maximum sentence that Weatherhead can receive for his crime is 10 years in prison, comparable to the maximum prison terms for violent threats, sex offenses involving children and the unauthorized possession of firearms in the UK, she added.

Yet some financial institutions have broken British law but are not being charged for it, Smith said, citing a recent Sunday Times investigation.

The eBay-owned and California-based online money giant PayPal has not paid a proper tax rate in the UK, the investigation revealed.

According to the figures the Sunday Times has obtained, PayPal paid just £1.2 million in taxes for 2010 – less than one-third of the losses PayPal allegedly incurred after the Anonymous hacking attack.

But Paypal’s 2010 profits in the UK were as high as £181 million, tax bill for which is £51 million, the newspaper said.