Former Shetland resident Jake Davis could face jail when he is sentenced on Thursday for his role as a “core” member of internet hacking group Lulzsec.
He was one of four hackers who boasted “we are Gods now” as they waged an online campaign against websites belonging to the CIA, the Pentagon and the NHS.
Along with the online outfit’s chief hacker, 26-year-old Ryan Ackroyd, Davis, 20, and two other cohorts played a part in hijacking a host of companies.
Websites for Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers The Sun and the News of the World were targeted, as were electronics giant Sony and film studio 20th Century Fox.
Attacks were also launched against Nintendo, the UK’s Serious and Organised Crime Agency and the Arizona State Police, Southwark Crown Court heard on Wednesday.
The four caused “millions of pounds” of damage and exposed hundreds of thousands of members of the public by posting their personal details online.
Davis was the group’s press secretary, running its official Twitter feed. He liaised with journalists to help publicise Lulzsec’s “sophisticated and orchestrated campaign of online attacks” between February and September 2011.
Known by the alias “Topiary”, Davis issued press releases ridiculing the security of websites that had been hacked from the bedroom of the Shetland home where he lived alone.
Prosecutor Sandip Patel said the evidence demonstrated the group’s intention was to achieve “extensive national and international notoriety and publicity” and cause “unprecedented harm” to their victims.
Mr Patel said 750,000 pieces of personal data were recovered from Davis’ computer alone.
“[The four hackers] saw themselves as latter-day pirates, scouring the internet for vulnerable computer systems,” he said. “The defendants, and others like them, are at the cutting edge of contemporary emerging species of criminal offending.”
Davis, formerly of Hoofields, Lerwick, admitted to two counts of conspiring to commit an unauthorised act with intent to impair the operation of computers. He now gives an address in Spalding, Lincolnshire.
Defence QC Simon Mayo told the court Davis had since changed from being a depressed and isolated teenager in Shetland to an outgoing scriptwriter living in London.
His childhood and teenage years were beset with a series of personal tragedies leading to a diagnosis of clinical depression.
But since his arrest and prosecution, Davis has written several articles about his experiences and carved out a new life in the arts.
The court heard how Davis’ mother first took 6-year-old Jake and his brother to Shetland to get away from their alcoholic father.
Her new partner was killed when Davis was 12 after falling asleep at the wheel. That “significantly and adversely affected” him, Mr Mayo said.
“It impacted on him as he had to watch his mother go through the loss of someone she cared very much about, and losing someone he too had genuine affection for.”
Mr Mayo claimed Davis had been bullied at school for preferring reading over sport. He refused to attend classes altogether from the age of 14.
Suffering from intermittent depression, Davis took a drug overdose in 2010 after moving out of the family home.
In November the same year, his biological father died. “There was an attempt made by his father to make contact through a third party, but before he could do that, his father committed suicide,” said Mr Mayo.
Davis was unable to attend the mainland funeral because he couldn’t afford the travel fare.
Up until then, Mr Mayo continued, Davis’ daily life was “dominated by an unstable background interceded by events of genuine tragedy”.
He was “socially isolated, lacking in meaningful interaction with his peers [and his] potential [was] not encouraged, let alone properly developed and utilised”.
Mr Mayo said that was the context under which Davis was “seduced by the ideology” of the Anonymous hacking movement and “sucked into” a life of cyber crime.
Recognised that his conducted had been “wholly wrong”, Mr Mayo said that following his conviction Davis began to turn his life around.
After The Observer published a piece he had written entitled My Life After Anonymous, Davis was contacted by a string of journalists, documentary makers and writers.
Michael Morris MBE, a co-founder of Art Angel, gave a character reference for Davis having worked with him on a new cultural project.
“He had huge potential to utilise everything he knows and what he is yet to learn in a most positive way,” Mr Morris said. “He could impact significantly on the cultural landscape if he is given more encouragement.”
Mr Mayo said Davis has now escaped the “social vacuum” he was previously in, and asked for a community order sentence rather than a prison term.
He also pointed out American authorities are currently pursuing Davis over his previous online activities.
Davis will be sentenced on Thursday, along with Ackroyd, Cleary and 18-year-old A-Level student Mustafa Al-Bassam.