PayPal 14 'Freedom Fighters' Plead Guilty to Cyber-Attack

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By David Gilbert | December 6, 2013 8:46 PM EST

Anonymous members who carried out a cyber-attack on PayPal in 2010 plead guilty - but avoided jail.

Appearing before a San Jose court in California on Thursday, 11 members of what has become known as the PayPal 14 pleaded guilty to one felony charge and one misdemeanour charge under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, but will likely avoid a prison sentence following a deal hammered out with the US Department of Justice ahead of time

The group were arrested in 2011 and charged with taking part in a cyber-attack against PayPal in 2010.

According to reporter Alexa O'Brien, the 11 men and women who pleaded guilty to both counts had their sentencing set back to December 2014, when the court will likely strike out all felony charges - but only if they don't renounce their pleas and stay out of trouble in the meantime.

The felony charge is normally punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Two of the 14 pleaded guilty to only the lesser misdemeanour charge and will therefore serve 90 days in prison when they return to court next December - though the judge does have the option to not impose this sentence.

The final member of the PayPal 14 had their case handled separately.

Freedom fighters

The Daily Beast reports that Stanley Cohen, counsel to one of the defendants, said, "The PayPal 14 are like civil rights fighters or the freedom riders of the 1960s. They are saying, 'I did what I did with open eyes, knowing that I could get prosecuted. It happened. I knew what the consequences were, and the consequences came. I stand behind what I did. I did not cooperate with the government, and I did not roll over. I did this so that others could understand how corporations control the dialogue and the debate."

All members of the group will have to pay restitution to PayPal of $5,600 (£3,430) totalling almost $80,000. PayPal claimed in court papers that it had incurred damages of $5.5 million as a result of the cyber-attack.

The Anonymous-organised attack - dubbed Operation Payback - was a response by the hacktivists to PayPal's decision to suspend Wikileak's account with the online billing service.

It is still unknown how many members of Anonymous took part in the distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, but the PayPal 14 were the only one's ever arrested, despite PayPal handing the US Department of Justice a list of 1,000 IP addresses of computers which took part in the attack.

Leniency

It has been reported at the time by one prominent member of Anonymous that the majority of the attack was carried out by two large botnets - huge networks of zombie computers - controlled by a couple of Anonymous-affiliated hackers.

Earlier in the week Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay, which is the parent company of PayPal, called for leniency for the PayPal 14 saying the charges were too serious for the crime committed:

"In those cases, I believe justice requires leniency. In my view, they should be facing misdemeanour charges and the possibility of a fine, rather than felony charges and jail time."

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