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A Nottinghamshire man who attacked the website of London dating agency loveandfriends.com has avoided imprisonment.

Matthew Byrne, 38, from Kirkby-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, was given a suspended sentence of eight months imprisonment, suspended for two years, at a sentencing hearing at London's Southwark Crown Court on Tuesday. He was also sentenced to two years supervision order after pleading guilty to computer hacking offences (unauthorised modification of a computer contrary to section three of the Computer Misuse Act 1990) at an earlier hearing in September.

Byrne was charged in May following a year-long investigation by officers at the Computer Crime Unit at Scotland Yard over an August 2004 attack on loveand friends.com. He used brute force methods to find easily guessable passwords in order to gain illicit access to four profiles on loveandfriends' database.

These profiles were subsequently defaced. Byrne then made demands for payment in exchange for holding off on threats to delete the firm's database. Andy MacCabe, managing director of loveandfriends, said at the time that the attacker only had member level access to four profiles with weak passwords. The hacker did not at any time gain access to the loveandfriends financial database or web servers despite threats to the contrary.

Byrne was charged with extortion over these demands but these charges were subsequentally dropped. After tracing Byrne to his then home in Sheffield, Met Police officers recovered evidence that he was responsible for writing the Mirsa-A and Mirsa-B mass mailing worms, which posed as messages from campaign group Fathers 4 Justice. The campaign group condemned the attack.

In sentencing Byrne, Judge Geoffrey Rivlin commended the investigative work of DC Billington and DC Sheikh. Byrne's offences were on the cusp of meriting a custodial sentence, Judge Rivlin said. ®

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