Teen hacker Junaid Hussain was sentenced to six months in a youth detention lock-up today for breaking into an email account linked to Tony Blair among other attacks.
His defence barrister had attempted to pass his actions off as no worse than anything Prime Minister David Cameron or London Mayor Boris Johnson might have done in their youth.
Hussain, 18, pleaded guilty to two counts of computer crookery back in July: for hacking into the email account of an aide to former UK premier Tony Blair and flooding the anti-terror hotline with nuisance calls. He was sentenced to three months in a youth detention facility for each offence in Southwark Crown Court.
Ben Cooper, speaking for the defence, said that Hussain had been a young teenager when he committed the offences, between the ages of 13 and 17, and had shown a lack of judgement typical for his age.
As an example, he said that Cameron and Johnson had been involved in a number of shenanigans in their youth, referring to the infamous Bullingdon Club. The pair were allegedly involved in all sorts of antics when they were students at Oxford University, including smashing up restaurants.
Prosecution barrister Richard Milne went through the charges again for the sentencing hearing, including explaining the consequences of Hussain’s offences.
The Katie Kay hack
The first offence was his hack into the Gmail account of one of Blair’s advisors, Katie Kay. After gaining access to the account, Hussain, also known by the handle TriCK, posted contact details from the account’s address book and other personal information online. The info included the former prime minister’s national insurance number.
Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith told the court Kay had said in her statement that the hack was an invasion of her privacy.
“I was upset and embarrassed that my details and personal details of friends had been made public because of who I worked for,” she said. “I felt I or my friends could be targeted by abuse or worse.”
Terror line DoS
Hussain and his hacktivist group TeaMp0isoN also flooded the UK’s national anti-terrorism hotline, which takes calls from the public for tips on terrorist activity, with automated calls. So-called call-bombs are similar to a denial-of-service attack on a computer, and aim to disrupt the offered service.
As well as the automated calls, callers from the group also phoned in to abuse the operators, recording the conversations and then posting them online as well. Hussain was adamant that he had not been one of the actual callers, but pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge over the calls.
TeaMp0isoN apparently believed they were disrupting MI6 operations rather than police activities. Although none of the recorded calls picked up any sensitive information or affected national security, they did stop genuine calls from coming through, any of which could have contained valuable information, Milne pointed out.
Defence team: ‘He’s matured’
Defence barrister Ben Cooper told the court that Hussain had grown up a lot since his arrest and prosecution, was successfully working full time over the summer and had finished his A levels and received offers to study at university.
He repeated a number of times that Hussain was very frightened of being locked up and asked the court to consider a suspended sentence.
But the judge wasn’t moved by the arguments. He pointed out that the offences started when Hussain was young, but they continued right up until he was caught.
“He’s told me in his letter and he’s told the probation officer that he’s very frightened of custody and I couldn’t understand that more,” Judge Nicholas Lorraine-Smith said.
Cooper also talked about Hussain’s commitment to education and bettering himself and his strong family background, supported by references from family members and others. However, the judge said there was more to consider than his good character.
“In sentencing cases such as this, there has to be an element of his past and his family and his future, but there has to be an aspect of deterrence,” he said. “I’ve been provided with an enormous amount of information about him, but I have a number of duties.”
After hearing both sides, the judge retired for 15 minutes before coming back with his sentencing decision.
Hussain has been out on bail on a restricted basis, including electronic tagging and a curfew between 7pm and 7am. As that curfew is longer than nine hours, it counts as a type of custody, so Hussain will have half of the days he’s been out on bail – 52 – counted as time served.
The judge said Hussain was likely to be freed in time to take up one of his university places in October. ®