Teenager avoids custody for cyber-attacks and airline bomb hoaxes
A 16-year-old boy has been spared detention after launching cyber-attacks on websites across the world and tweeting bomb hoaxes to airlines.
The teenager, who cannot be named for legal reasons, attacked 12 websites when he was aged 14 and 15, including sites belonging to his local police force and SeaWorld.
He targeted government and pro-hunting sites in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America from a laptop in his bedroom at home in Plympton, near Plymouth, Devon.
Devon and Cornwall police were affected for 44 minutes after the attack, known as a distributed denial of service (DDoS), while the boy’s actions cost SeaWorld almost $600,000 (£455,000).
The teenager admitted three offences under section 3 of the Computer Misuse Act, relating to the DDoS attacks, and was convicted of two charges under section 51 of the Criminal Law Act. These related to bomb hoaxes that he sent via Twitter to American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and the White House on 13 February last year.
District judge Diane Baker told the boy, who sat next to his mother at Plymouth youth court, that she had been minded to sentence him to a 12-month detention and training order. She instead gave him a two-year youth rehabilitation order, along with 120 hours of reparation and a programme of courses to attend, after deciding that custody would “destroy” him.
“Your offending, in my mind, crosses the custody threshold – I say that because the offending involved significant planning,” the district judge said. “The DDoS attacks were sophisticated. On your own admission you became a person to whom others came for advice on how to carry them out.
“With the bomb hoaxes, again, a significant level of planning – in particular, sophistication in ensuring that your actions were not traced.
“These were a whole series of offences over a period of time. There’s no doubt that you knew what you were doing. You knew it was serious.
“I don’t think there would be any positive outcome for you going into a youth detention centre – I think it would destroy you.
“If it would destroy you, how could I come to the conclusion that I am concerned with your welfare and rehabilitation as well as punishment?”
The boy’s mother was ordered to pay £620 in prosecution costs.
“You have put your family through hell during this period of time,” the judge told the teenager, adding that his laptop would be destroyed. “I have to say, I think it is very unhealthy that a young man of this age spends so much time alone on the computer.
“I don’t think there’s anything that Mum could have done in the circumstances, because she had absolutely no idea at the involvement he had.”