Computer experts Darren Martyn, aged 21, from Cloonbeggin, Claregalway, Galway, and Donncha Ó Cearrbhaíl, aged 20, from The Ring, Birr, Co Offaly, are the first to be successfully prosecuted in Ireland for comp-uter hacking and will be sentenced in October.
The two, who used the online aliases Raepsauce and Palladium, had been identified by the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation in conjunction with the FBI, Dublin District Court heard.
They pleaded guilty yesterday 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 Jan 9, 2011 — seven weeks before the general election.
The site — set up for the election campaign — had invited readers to submit comments and contact details and had just under 2,000 subscribers.
Martyn studies forensic science and analysis at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT); co-defendant Ó Cearrbhail, the son of Offaly Independent councillor John Carroll, is a student of medicinal chemistry at Trinity College Dublin.
The DPP had decided that the pair should be tried by “summary disposal,” at district court level, only if they pleaded guilty.
Garda Fraud Squad officers told Judge Ann Ryan that on Jan 9, 2011, the www.finegael2011.ie site had been hacked. Detectives Marion Brennan and Paul Johnstone said 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.
Martyn’s solicitor Matthew Kenny said 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 young computer expert “is a poacher turned gamekeeper” and now uses his skills to help prevent websites being hacked.
The student was willing to pay for his share of the damage but his family were of limited means and he would need time to get the money, Judge Ryan was told.
Solicitor Eugene Dunne, for Ó Cearrbhail, 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.
He was also willing to pay for damage to the website, he said.
Judge Ryan described the offence as “a terrible abuse of talent” and said they had used their expertise in “a criminal way”. She warned it could result in possible sentences, but noted that the offence had not caused any long-term problems.
She adjourned the case until October to let them each bring €5,000 to court. She also asked the Probation Service to prepare a restorative justice report.