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Boasts of 'Anonymous' Hackers Who Brought Down Mastercard and Paypal in Wikileaks Protest

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A computer hacking gang, who caused major companies multi-million pound losses, boasted there was 'next to zero' chance they would be caught, a court heard.

The group, taking action on behalf of the 'Anonymous' protest group, brought down websites belonging to PayPal and Mastercard by flooding them with messages and requests under the banner 'Operation Payback'.

The gang even discussed hacking pop star Lily Allen's website in revenge for her stance on anti-piracy, Southwark Crown Court heard.

Northampton University student Christopher Weatherhead, 22, who used the online handle 'Nerdo', is on trial accused of playing an 'integral role' in the attacks.

Ashley Rhodes, 28, Peter Gibson, 24, and an 18-year-old who cannot be named, have already admitted their roles in the conspiracy.

Prosecutor Sandip Patel said online forums contained instruction manuals for Anonymous supporters to join 2010 attacks and evade capture.

'One user asked what would happen if they got caught', he told jurors.

'It says the chances are next to zero because so many are doing it. You simply deny knowing what they are talking about, or say you have been infected by a virus.

'If you try to do this alone, the chances are much higher you will get caught.'

The campaign originally targeted music industry bodies to avenge their anti-piracy stance, but the gang began to focus on firms who refused to process payments to Julian Assange's Wikileaks organisation.

The online payments firm PayPal suffered losses of £3.5million, while sites belonging to Mastercard and recording industry bodies were also forced offline.

Weatherhead is accused of bragging online to a fellow hacker: 'We have probably done some million pound of damage to mc [Mastercard]'.

Anyone who tried to visit the sites was directed to a webpage displaying the message: 'You've tried to bite the Anonymous hand. You angered the hive and now you are being stung'.

Anonymous held an online countdown to the start of co-ordinated attacks, telling their followers: 'Charging your lasers, remember don't start shooting until the time.'

Investigator DC Trevor Dickey said police found several 'press releases' from the hackers attempting to explain their actions.

'They had what I referred to as press releases, where they sought to justify why it is they do the things that they do', he said.

He added: 'It was to cause as much disruption to whether it be an organisation or company which had a website.

'They tried to take them offline so they couldn't function as an entity.'

Jurors heard Weatherhead was an administrator of Anonymous sites which urged followers to carry out distributed denial of services attacks (DDoS) against the companies.

DDoS attacks work by paralysing a computer system by flooding it with an 'intolerable number of online requests and messages', the court heard.

Weatherhead and his three co-conspirators are said to be a 'small cabal of leaders' for attacks between September 2010 and January 2011.

'Press releases' posted by Anonymous were played to jurors in which the group begged the public not to be angry with their actions.

'Please do not despise use', it said. 'We ask you to consider the value of freed of information for you and future generations.

'We ask you to consider the implications of information censorship through the Internet or free speech.

'Consider the future of our human rights. Those you want to take these rights from you will not stop with this.'

The group promised to continue 'until our proverbial dying breath' to tackle what it described as 'atrocities' committed by large firms against free speech.

Among its instructions to supporters was to distribute the controversial Wikileaks cables across the Internet so that more people could read them.

Weatherhead denies one count of conspiracy to impair the operation of computers between August 1, 2010 and January 27 last year.

Rhodes, from Camberwell, southeast London, Gibson, from Hartlepool, and the 18-year-old, of Chester, have pleaded guilty to the same charge.

The trial continues.

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