Sun, May 08, 2005 - Page 11 News List

British member of global hacker syndicate sent to jail

TECHNOLOGICAL THRILLSEEKER The IT specialist was part of an underground organization which `struck at the very heart of software trading,' a London court ruled


A London information-technology (IT) specialist was jailed for two and a half years on Friday for his role in a global gang of Internet pirates behind the UK's biggest software theft.

A court in central London heard that Alex Bell, 29, a Morgan Stanley IT worker, belonged to an international underground hackers' organization, DrinkorDie, which prided itself on cracking even the most complex security codes and putting illegally copied software, games, music and videos on the Web before their official release.

The group, 70 members of which have been arrested worldwide, was not driven by financial gain, but by the technological thrill and a dislike of corporate giants such as Microsoft. But its actions cost the computer industry millions of dollars.

Bell and co-defendant Steven Dowd, 39, both denied conspiracy to defraud, but were convicted by the jury. Two other men, 31-year-old Mark Vent and Andrew Eardley, 35, admitted the charge. Dowd was jailed for two years, Vent for 18 months, and Eardley got an 18-month suspended sentence.

Bell was a "staff member" of DrinkorDie, with some kudos in the hierarchy, and fraudulently used other people's credit cards to buy software for the group to crack. Dowd was also a member and police found a "treasure trove" of pirated software in his home.

Judge Paul Focke said that while the defendants were not the ringleaders of DrinkorDie, all four were involved in activities which "struck at the very heart of software trading."

"The cost to software owners through piracy is staggering," he added. "Not only does it have an effect on them but it also has an effect on related businesses and the lives of their employees can be rendered catastrophic."

Bruce Houlder, prosecuting, described the gang as computer obsessives who lived in a virtual world where they were Internet heroes.

"Computers are their universe. They seem to live and breathe the world of computers. They see themselves as stars and come out at night. They are the night-time tappers of keyboards whose lives are bound by random access memory. Their lives revolve around cyberspace.

"Often they don't do what they do for money but for a kind of street cred among their fellow Internet devotees. But they see themselves as Internet heroes.

"They may think of themselves as latter-day Robin Hoods, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor ... but this Robin Hood mentality is just something that serves their purpose. In reality it is a cover for fraud," he said.

British cyber-detectives worked with the FBI on a five-year investigation and British Detective Superintendent Mick Deats said that DrinkorDie was one of the most sophisticated groups making up the "Warez Community" -- a network of gangs which started in the 1990s, "ripping" software by removing protective copyright and then posting it on the Internet for illegal downloading.

"Internet piracy is a growing problem, with organized crime moving into this space and defrauding the individual, business and governments of millions of pounds," Deats said.

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