Hunt for hackers of US government sites leads to Essex teenager’s bedroom

( Investigators believe a teenager arrested at his family home in Essex may have been a “significant” figure in a computer hacking group alleged to have staged attacks against websites belonging to the US government, the electronics giant Sony, and an elite British crime unit.

Scotland Yard cybercrime detectives were questioning Ryan Cleary, 19, over the attacks carried out by the LulzSec group, which mostly targeted websites belonging to institutions and companies in the US.

The events leading to the arrest of Cleary involved an investigation by British police and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI‘s involvement, plus the nature of the targets, raised the prospect that Washington may seek the teenager’s extradition to the US, just as it did in the case of UFO obsessive Gary McKinnon, a saga that is still ongoing.

LulzSec have attacked the websites of the CIA, the US senate, US broadcasters and, on Monday, the day of Cleary’s arrest, the hackers bought down the website of Britain’s Serious and Organised Crime Agency (Soca).

LulzSec is believed to have established itself as a formidable splinter group to Anonymous, the hacking group embroiled in the WikiLeaks fallout, with high-profile attacks on the Gawker website in December last year and a devastating assault on the US security firm HBGary in February.

Members of Anonymous claimed in emails to the Guardian that Cleary, though involved, was not the “mastermind” behind any hacking group. “He owned the server which LulzSec used to communicate using IRC [internet relay chat, a bit like instant messenger].”

UK records show that a company called Arcusvoice, which held domain names used to host websites, was registered to Cleary’s home address in Wickford, Essex.

“Ryan Cleary was not a mastermind hacker,” the email continued. “He could not keep his own personal information safe. He simply provided the means of communication, just like if two people send letters to each other, FedEx/Royal Mail/DHL are the providers of communication.”

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