Northern Ireland

Co Antrim man who was part of international computer hacking gang avoids jail

Aaron Sterritt has 26-month jail term suspended for three years

Aaron Sterritt appears at Antrim Crown Court on Tuesday.
Aaron Sterritt. Picture by Colm Lenaghan

A CO Antrim man who was part of an international computer hacking gang walked free from court on Tuesday after his 26-month jail sentence was suspended for three years.

Sentencing 24-year-old Aaron Sterritt at Antrim Crown Court, Judge Roseanne McCormick KC said she was satisfied there were exceptional grounds in the background which justified her suspending the jail term.

At an earlier hearing Sterritt, from Brookfield Gardens in Ahoghill, entered guilty pleas to a total of eight offences including five counts of conspiring “with others not before the court, to commit unauthorised acts, namely a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack,” on dates between 2 December 2016 and 21 December 2016.

He also admitted two offences of falling to comply with a notice to provide passwords and decryption keys to an iPhone, a laptop and a hard drive and a single count of obtaining an article, namely a malicious code from the ‘’Blazingfast’' server, intending to use it under the computer misuse act on dates between 20 December 2017 and 26 June 2020

The court heard that using the pseudonyms ‘Victor’ and ‘Vamp,’ Sterritt was part of a hacking gang known as “starpatrol” whose DDos cyber attacks targeted:

  • Flowplay incorporated
  • Microsoft Corporation (XBox live)
  • Ottawa Catholic School Board
  • Rockstar Games Incorporated and
  • Tumblr Incorporated.

Judge McCormick told the court that according to the prosecution, Sterritt was subordinate to at least one other member of the star patrol group in offending which was “hugely harmful.”

Sterritt was prosecuted as a result of a joint operation between the PSNI and the National Crime Agency.

Taking each count in turn, the judge outlined how Flowplay inc. has two virtual worlds involving 75 million online gamers across the world. Between 3-11 December the attacks caused the servers to “lock up” for the entirety of the attacks and during that time, customers could not access their accounts or play online and as result of the attack, Flowplay “had to refund tens of thousands of dollars of purchases and subscription fees.”

Along with losing out on potential new customers Flowplay had to pay to “migrant” their services to a new server, resulting in the company being out of pocket of “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

There was a series of similar attacks on Xbox live and Rockstar games between 3-21 December while in the offences relating to Ottawa Catholic School Board, a school in Ontario experienced many DDoS attacks between 2015 and 2016.

Judge McCormick said information pointed to the school’s own students being responsible in that two work stations were accessing sites that could be launched to such an attack, affecting online access for the 4,000 staff and 40,000 pupils and leading the board to spend more than $100,000 on internet security and monitoring.

The attack on Tumblr Incorporated “appeared to originate from IP addresses all over the world”.

Sterritt operated under the assume name of Vamp and the judge said that in postings he had labelled himself as the “baby faced hacker with autism who took credit for the Talk Talk hack.”

Judge McCormick told the court it was an aggravating factor that at the time of the offences she was dealing with, Sterritt was on bail for other similar offences where he was involved in hacking into the Talk Talk network.

“That resulted in the company losing thousands of customers and disclosing financial losses in the realm of £77 million,” said the judge.

Turning to the various reports, Judge McCormick revealed that Sterritt had grown up in the care system, was diagnosed with autism and ADHD and despite his “obvious technological capabilities,” had left school with no formal qualifications.

Judge McCormick said while there was no doubt the offences crossed the threshold for a custodial sentence, Sterritt’s guilty pleas and “personal challenges” meant she could take an exceptional course and suspend the sentence.

The sentence was welcomed by the PSNI and the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit who said they would continue to do what they can to disrupt cyber criminals.