NullCrew's Canadian telco hacker thrown in the clink for four years

Teenage crimes lead to adult punishments

A member of the NullCrew group has been jailed for 45 months after pleading guilty to bag a reduced sentence.

Timothy Justin French, aka Orbit, 22, was part of NullCrew – itself an offshoot of Anonymous. The gang gained notoriety with a series of high-profile hacks in 2012 and 2013, when French was 17, including hitting websites run by the US Department of Homeland Security, the World Health Organization, and America's Public Broadcasting System.

French was caught in 2014 after an FBI informant befriended the hacking team on Twitter, Skype, and Cryptocat. After many conversations, and by tracing connections, the Feds were led to French's home in Tennessee, US, where he was arrested without incident.

"The defendant played a central role in an extensive, deliberate, and destructive hacking campaign that inflicted widespread and serious harm to businesses, governments, non-profits, and thousands of individuals," said Assistant US Attorney William Ridgway on Tuesday.

"He disseminated online the usernames, email accounts, and passwords for thousands of individuals, which not only violated their privacy and sense of online security, it exposed them to financial fraud and identity theft."

French was facing 10 years in prison, as well as a huge fine, but agreed to plead guilty [PDF] to avoid a lengthy trial and land a lesser sentence. He admitted to stealing data on 12,000 customers of a Canadian telecommunications provider, hacking into servers of numerous businesses and at least one university, and causing $792,000 worth of damages. He and his fellow miscreants used VPNs and compromised servers to launch their cyber-attacks.

Most of the other members of NullCrew remain at large, although the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested one other suspect in 2014, an unnamed minor, at about the same time as French. The group appears to have stopped hacking, or at least has stopped broadcasting that it is. ®

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