A British man has been charged with hacking into the computer systems of the US army, Nasa and other federal agencies.
The 28-year-old, named as Lauri Love from Suffolk, was arrested by officers from the National Crime Agency under the Computer Misuse Act.
He has been accused by US prosecutors of being a “sophisticated and prolific computer hacker” who allegedly stole “massive quantities of confidential data” after breaking into the computer networks of government agencies, “resulting in millions of dollars in losses”.
An indictment served in a US court included pieces of instant message conversations that Love allegedly had with his partners, with one message saying: “This … stuff is really sensitive”.
Speaking at his family home yesterday, Mr Love declined to comment on the allegations, saying he had only just returned “after being at government headquarters” and was “not well”.
He has been released on bail until February and could face a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each count.
A statement from US prosecutors has claimed the “stolen data” included the “personally identifying information of thousands of individuals, some of whom were military servicemen and servicewomen.”
An inquiry led by the FBI and the Army’s computer crime unit found that Mr Love and three unnamed accomplices – two from Australia and one from Sweden – allegedly infiltrated systems used by the Nasa, the US Missile Defense Agency, the US Army, and the Environmental Protection Agency, the prosecutors said.
According to a detailed list of alleged attacks, they stole data on more than 5,000 individuals, as well as information on government budgets and procurement processes, and on the “demolition and disposal of military facilities”.
They are accused of plotting their hacks in secure internet chat rooms, where they allegedly discussed attacking vulnerable computer networks “to disrupt the operations and infrastructure of the United States government”.
Included in the 22-page indictment were alleged extracts from Mr Love’s internet chats with his co-conspirators, in which it is claiemd he discussed how the group “might be able to get at real confidential shit” by hacking certain systems.
Expressing a desire to “blow this year wide open”, Mr Love allegedly told one of the Australian co-conspirators: “You have no idea how much we can fuck with the us government if we wanted to.”
He went on to say “this stuff is really sensitive” and “it’s basically every piece of information you’d need to do full identity theft”, according to prosecutors.
It is alleged that they mounted so-called “injection attacks” on supposedly secure government databases, creating “back door” routes into the agencies’ systems to allow the hackers to keep coming back in order to access information they held. Mr Love allegedly hacked under the pseudonyms “nsh”, “route” and “peace”.
Mr Love has been indicted in a federal court in Newark, New Jersey, with one count of accessing a US government computer without authorisation and one count of conspiring to do the same between October last year and this month.
Speaking from the semi-detached four-bedroom house he shares with his parents in Suffolk, Mr Love said he could not comment on the case.
“I only just got home after being at government headquarters today,” he said. “I don’t even know what’s happening myself to be honest, I need to call my lawyers.
“My dad is ill and my parents both work at the prison so it wouldn’t be fair on them to talk about what’s going on with all this just at this moment.
“My dad has a heart problems and I’m not well myself.”
Mr Love’s father Alexander Love, 50, works as a vicar at HMP Highpoint North and his mother Sirkka-Liisa Love, 49, works at the same prison as a teacher.
Neighbour Keith Strudwick, 32, said: “They are a really nice family. I don’t know much about Lauri, but he seems alright and he’s been brought up by good parents.”
Another neighbour reported seeing police remove a computer from Mr Love’s home on Friday evening.
Andy Archibald, a spokesman for the National Crime Agency, said: ”This arrest is the culmination of close joint working by the NCA, Police Scotland and our international partners.
”Cyber-criminals should be aware that no matter where in the world you commit cyber crime, even from remote places, you can and will be identified and held accountable for your actions.
”The NCA has well-developed law enforcement alliances globally and we will pursue and deal robustly with cyber-criminals.”
Under the CMA, individuals can be arrested for launching attacks from within the UK against computers anywhere in the world.