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Banged-up Brit hacker hacks into his OWN PRISON'S 'MAINFRAME'

Packet lag signed up for IT classes in the clink

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A UK hacker behind bars for computer fraud hacked into his prison's computer system during an IT lesson.

Nicholas Webber, 21, of Southsea, Hampshire, was able to access the network after being allowed to join the jail's technology classes.

Webber was sent down for five years in May 2011 for masterminding the infamous GhostMarket.net cybercrime marketplace. Fraudsters used his website to trade stolen credit-card details. GhostMarket, one of the biggest underground bazaars of its type with 8,500 members, even offered tutorials on identity theft for inexperienced and wannabe criminals.

GhostMarket's treasure trove of information was used to steal £15m from 65,000 bank accounts worldwide, according to some estimates.

Webber, GhostMarket's founder, used his website's profits to buy computers, video games, iPhones and iPods worth £40,000. But it was his taste in luxury hotels that proved his undoing: Webber was arrested for using fraudulent credit card details to pay for a penthouse suite at the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane, London, in October 2009.

He was subsequently prosecuted for computer fraud offences, convicted and eventually sent to HM Prison Isis, a category-C young offender institution for males, in southeast London. The hacker managed to sign up for the prison's IT class before infiltrating part of the institute's computer system, The Daily Mail reported.

A prison service spokesman confirmed that Webber was involved in a hack on the prison's systems while downplaying the significance of the compromise.

"At the time of this incident in 2011 the educational computer system at HMP Isis was a closed network. No access to personal information or wider access to the internet or other prison systems would have been possible," the spokesman told The Reg.

News of the hack emerged during an unfair dismissal case brought to an employment tribunal by Michael Fox, the prison's IT teacher. Fox, who was employed by Kensington and Chelsea College, gave lessons at HMP Isis, but this ended after he was blamed for the hack and excluded from the prison. College bosses failed to find Fox alternative work even though he was cleared of any wrongdoing at a disciplinary hearing last March.

Fox said he was not aware of Webber's crimes when the hacker joined the prison's IT class. Fox also maintained that it wasn't his decision to admit the lad to the course, which aims to give young offenders skills that will give them a better chance of finding gainful employment once they leave prison.

Fox’s tribunal hearing, which was held in Croydon on Friday, was adjourned until April, according to the Mail. During the proceedings, Fox reportedly said: "The perceived problem [at the college] was there was a tutor who had been excluded by the prison and charged with allowing a hacking expert to hack into the prison’s mainframe."

Commentary on the security implications of the computer compromise can be found in a post on Sophos's Naked Security blog here. ®

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