A blackmailing hacker behind the TalkTalk cyber-attack – which cost the company £77million after the personal details of 157,000 customers were stolen – has today (10 June) been sentenced.
Daniel Kelley, 22, admitted targeting at least six organisations by threatening to sell their hacked data on the ‘dark web’ unless they paid him hundreds of thousands of pounds in Bitcoin. Where they refused, he made good on his threats.
In October 2015, Kelley was one of many hackers who used software called ‘SQL injection’ to attack TalkTalk, whose then-chief executive Dido Harding was subjected to repeated extortion attempts demanding £80,000 in Bitcoin in exchange for stolen customer data.
He has now been sentenced to four years in youth detention.
Investigations revealed details relating to 156,959 accounts were accessed, of which 15,656 had their bank account and sort code numbers accessed. Kelley advertised this data for sale at $1,450,000 on a dark web site called ‘dbs4sale’.
TalkTalk lost £42million as a direct result of the attack and £35million in other costs, including the loss of 95,000 customers.
In another blackmail campaign, Kelley spent weeks hounding Australian firm For The Record for cash in return for not making its stolen customer data public.
Fearing for its reputation, the company made several payments totalling 26.65 Bitcoin (£4,380.12). But Kelley continued to demand more from a marketing director at the firm, telling him in foul-mouthed messages: “I could annihilate your company in days.”
On 13 May 2015, the employee received an email from Kelley containing a picture of his 18-month-old son with a message reading: “How fun would it be find your sons [sic] background ruined online, before he has even hit 10?”
The message – a clear threat to modify the child’s picture for sexual purposes – came alongside a series of menacing phone calls.
In an early example of his hacking, Kelley also attacked a college near his hometown in revenge for tutors refusing him a place on a BTEC computer course because he had not passed enough GCSEs.
Throughout 2013 and 2014, Coleg Dir Gar in south-west Wales was subjected to repeated ‘Distributed Denial of Service’ attacks. The disruption cost students hundreds of hours of teaching time and affected other parts of the Welsh public sector broadband network, costing a minimum of £399,000 in taxpayers’ money to mitigate.
Describing themselves as ‘Team Hans’, Kelley also coached two accomplices to hack Canada’s Rogers Communications and send threatening messages to one of its employees. At an earlier hearing at the Old Bailey, Kelley pleaded guilty to blackmail charges involving a further three companies.
Russell Tyner, CPS specialist prosecutor, said: “Daniel Kelley is an opportunistic and utterly ruthless hacker who, motivated by financial gain and spite, caused enormous financial and reputational damage to his victims.
“Far from showing mercy to the distressed employees of the companies he targeted, it is clear he took a vindictive pleasure in the anxiety and suffering his bullying inflicted on them.”
Building the case
Kelley operated largely via an anonymous browsing network known as ‘the Onion Router’ and had also disguised his IP address, which made detecting his criminal activities extremely difficult.
However, the CPS was able to prove his culpability after diligently and meticulously examining evidence hidden in his digital devices, including chat logs and Bitcoin accounts. Other files found on his computer included thousands of credit card numbers and details of the holders.
Software and other tools designed to assist or enable hacking were also recovered from his computer, including SQLi tools which allow for rapid scanning of the entire internet.
Mr Tyner added: “Hidden behind a cloak of anonymity, Kelley thought he could act with impunity by targeting companies worldwide he thought were vulnerable to cyber-attack.
“Indeed he saw himself as a coach and mentor to his fellow hackers. But, working with colleagues in Canada and Australia, the CPS was able to piece together the many complex strands of evidence, which resulted in Kelley pleading guilty to 11 offences.”