July 2015

Schoolboy hacker who almost ‘broke the internet’ with online attacks against worldwide organisations including the BBC from his bedroom walks free

  • Sentenced for transferring criminal property and 924 images of children

A teenage cyber geek dubbed ‘Narko’ walked free after cyber attacks from his bedroom against global institutions including the BBC that ‘almost broke the internet’.

Seth Nolan-Mcdonagh was just 13 when he joined a network of online hackers who brought websites to their knees using distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks.

The teenager, who netted £70,000 from the scam, dropped out of school and lost touch with ‘the real world’ as he was sucked into the world of hackers.

One attack was launched on Spamhaus, a firm that provides details of spammers to email and network providers, in March 2013.

The attackers then targeted Cloudflare – a service that blocks online assaults – in what was later described as the largest known DDOS ambush by hackers at the time.

Now 18, the young hacker sat in the body of the court between his parents and looked nervously on during his sentencing at Southwark Crown Court today.

Nolan-Mcdonagh had already pleaded guilty to two counts of unauthorised modification of computer material and one count of possessing articles for use in fraud.

He further admitted a charge of transferring criminal property and a charge of possession of 924 indecent photos of children.

Judge Jeffrey Pegden said: ‘Seth Nolan-Mcdonagh you fall to be sentenced for a serious crime committed by you between the beginning of 2011 and April 2013 when you were aged between 13 and 16 years.

‘You are now 18 and a half years of age and you pleaded guilty to these offences in December last year and January this year just before your eighteenth birthday and therefore you fall to be sentenced as a youth.

‘I emphasise at the very outset two matters in particular in respect of your culpability.

‘Firstly your young age when you committed these offences and secondly that at the time you were suffering, as everybody agrees, form a very significant mental illness.’

Nolan-Mcdonagh had also made ‘remarkable’ progress since entering rehab, the judge commented.

‘Those features and others to which I will refer to to make your case, in my judgement, exceptional,’ added Judge Pegden.

‘I said at the outset that these crimes were and are serious and indeed that is so.

‘Your persistent distributed denial-of-service attacking was so sophisticated and unprecedented in scope they had a worldwide effect.

‘As the Times newspaper said at the time they almost broke the internet.’

Nolan-Mcdonagh attacked the BBC, anti-spam site Spamhaus and Cloudflare, among others.

‘Many of those were attacked for financial gain and plain it is to me that you received very significant payments for those attacks.

‘It is impossible to quantify those payments at the moment but suffice for me to note you received over £70,000 in your bank accounts between the ages 13 and 16 years,’ said Judge Pegden.

‘You were in effect a hired DDOS attacker and in effect many billions of domain users and I conclude that you had an instrumental and leading role in the technicalities of those attacks.

‘You caused hundreds of thousands of pounds if loss to the various entities as they sought to mitigate the distributed denials-of-service.

‘But it is right to say that you weren’t alone.

‘A number of others were engaged in the attacks and discussed them and no doubt at all encouraged you up until your arrest.

‘Against these very grave matters it is right to emphasise again that you were significantly mentally unwell during that period.

‘You had withdrawn from schooling where you had been bullied and had been hospitalised and most importantly, in my judgement, you greatly withdrew completely from your family and friends,’ he said.

‘You had lost touch with the real world and even your family were unable to help you in the depths of your illness.’

Judge Pegden added there was ‘virtually no risk of any re-offending’ and ‘no risk of future harm to the public’.

‘Of course these offences normally attract a custodial sentence but because of these matters I have emphasised I am not of the view that custody is appropriate in your case,’ he added.

Nolan-Mcdonagh was handed a youth rehabilitation order to be supervised by Lambeth probation services with a six-month supervision order.

He must also carry out 240 hours of unpaid work.

Nolan-Mcdonagh, from Stockwell, southwest London, admitted two counts of unauthorised modification of computer material and one count of possessing articles for use in fraud.

He further admitted a charge of transferring criminal property and a charge of possession of 924 indecent photos of children.

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