Students who hacked FG election website escape jail
Two students, who hacked Fine Gael's 2011 election website, were spared jail sentences today and have been left with clean records.
Darren Martyn (aged 21) from Cloonbeggin, Claregalway, Galway, and 20-year-old Donnacha O Cearbhaill from The Ring, Birr, Co. Offaly were the first to be successfully prosecuted in Ireland for computer hacking.
The high-tech whizzkids, who used the online aliases 'Raepsauce' and 'Palladium', had been identified by the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation in conjunction with US law enforcement agency the FBI, Dublin District Court had heard.
They had pleaded guilty in July to criminal damage to the www.finegael2011.ie website, which was defaced, had its database stolen and was knocked offline for 24 hours after it was hacked on January 9, 2011 – seven weeks before the general election. In court their actions were described as a “stunt” to embarrass the party.
In July, Judge Ann Ryan had noted that the pair had no prior criminal convictions and she had ordered them to take part in restorative justice programme through the Probation Service.
Today, the case resumed and Judge Ryan noted that the pre-sentence probation report was “very good”. She said she was delighted that they had put their expertise to good use and told them “I hope you have learned your lesson.”
They had also been ordered to bring €5,000 each to court for payment to Fine Gael to cover the costs of getting the website running again after it had been hacked.
Judge Ryan noted that the students, who were accompanied to their hearing by family members, had brought the money to court. Fine Gael had decided that half of it should go to suicide prevention charity Pieta House and the remainder would be used to cover legal costs they incurred.
Judge Ryan said the pair had a “a lot to give to society” and she applied the Probation Offenders Act; this means the young men have been jail spared sentences and will not have criminal records.
The website – set up for the 2011 election campaign– had invited readers to submit comments and contact details and had just under 2,000 subscribers.
Mr Martyn studies forensic science and analysis, at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT); co-defendant Donnacha O Cearrbhaill – who is the son of Offaly Independent Councillor John Carroll – is a student of medicinal chemistry at Trinity College Dublin.
In evidence, Garda fraud squad officers had told Judge Ryan earlier that on January 9, 2011, the www.finegael2011.ie site had been hacked.
Detectives Marion Brennan and Paul Johnstone told Dublin District Court that the pair replaced the text on the site with the words “owned by Raepsauce and Palladium”.
The site's subscribers' database was stolen and published on the internet and was also sent to a journalist.
The site was inaccessible for 24 hours and according to Fine Gael it cost €10,000 to get it up and running again. No one suffered as a result of the subscriber list data being taken, the judge also noted.
Det Gda Brennan had agreed with Martyn's solicitor that “it was a stunt to embarrass a political party rather than to disclose data to the public at large”.
The GMIT student, who has no prior criminal convictions, had made full admissions, co-operated with the investigation and had pleaded guilty at an early stage, the court had heard.
The young computer expert “is a poacher turned gamekeeper” and now uses his skills to help prevent websites being hacked. He has “attracted contracts from the UK such is the level of his expertise,” his lawyer Matthew Kenny had said.
Solicitor Eugene Dunne, for O Cearrbhaill, had asked the court to note that his client was aged 17 at the time and has no previous criminal convictions, and had also pleaded guilty at an early stage.
Both were willing to pay for the damage caused to the website, the court had also been told.
The offence, at district court level, can result in a criminal conviction, a fine and can carry a maximum 12-month jail term.
In July, Judge Ryan had described the offence as “a terrible abuse of talent” and said they had used their expertise in “a criminal way” but she noted that their cybercrime had not caused any long-term problems.
Before today'shearing, the pair had been found to be suitable for inclusion in a restorative justice programme. This can involve a meeting between the offender and the victim to discuss the impact of the crime as well as a letter of apology and an action plan of activities.
However, the details of what they had been required to do as part of the restorative justice programme were not disclosed in court today.
- Sign up here to receive news by email. Once per day, no spam.