Scotland Yard formally charges CIA hacker

The house of Ryan Cleary, a 19-year-old man arrested over alleged attacks by a hacker group on businesses and government agencies. Getty Images

LONDON - A teenager was charged in connection with a recent spate of high-profile cyberattacks against websites belonging to CIA, Sony and law enforcement organizations, British police said Wednesday.

Ryan Cleary, 19, was accused of five offenses under the Computer Misuse Act, including an attack which brought down the website of Britain's Serious Organized Crime Agency - the U.K.'s FBI equivalent.

That attack was one of several attributed to hackers operating under the name of Lulz Security, who have also claimed credit for engineering the leak of tens of thousands of user details and passwords from Sony Pictures, as well as attacks on the U.S. Senate computer system, the CIA website, and FBI partner organizations in Atlanta and Connecticut.

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Cleary's supposed role in the collective was unclear. Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson described his arrest as "very significant," but Lulz has downplayed his importance.

Lulz said that while it had used Cleary's servers, he was "at best, mildly associated" with the group. It also promised to release more in the way of leaked data stolen from government websites, alluding to an operation that could occur as soon as Friday. The group didn't elaborate.

Little is known for sure about Lulz Security, although such groups are typically loose networks with supporters in more than one location, so an arrest could do little to bring it down and could even encourage supporters to carry on its cause. The group has gained 250,000 followers on Twitter and appears to have spawned at least one imitator group - Lulz Security Brazil, which on Wednesday claimed attacks that briefly knocked out several Brazilian government sites.

So far, the charges leveled against Cleary are related only to attacks on U.K.-based organizations. It wasn't immediately clear whether the FBI, which is investigating Lulz Security's activities in the U.S., would pursue its own charges. FBI spokeswoman Jenny Shearer said the agency couldn't comment on the matter.

Several of the charges relate to recent activity against the Serious Organized Crime Agency and the distribution of malicious programs, but others date to fall of last year - when the teenager is accused of attacking the website of the British Phonographic Industry and its global counterpart, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

The timing of those two attacks appears linked to a hacking operation dubbed "Operation Payback," led by an amorphous alliance of hackers known as Anonymous, which targeted music sites worldwide.

Lulz and Anonymous recently teamed up, calling for a united hacker effort to attack any government or agency that "crosses their path."

Cleary was due to appear at a London court Thursday.

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