TWO students have admitted hacking Fine Gael's website – in the weeks leading up to the 2011 General Election – as a "stunt" to embarrass the party.
Computer experts Darren Martyn (21), from Cloonbeggin, Claregalway, Co Galway, and 20-year-old Donncha O Cearrbhail, from The Ring, Birr, Co Offaly, are the first to be successfully prosecuted in Ireland for computer hacking and will be sentenced in October.
The hi-tech whizzkids, who used the online aliases 'Raepsauce' and 'Palladium', had been identified by the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation in conjunction with US law enforcement agency 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 January 9, 2011. The site had just under 2,000 subscribers.
Mr Martyn studies forensic science and analysis at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT); co-defendant Donncha O Cearrbhail – who is the son of Offaly Independent Councillor John Carroll – is a student of medicinal chemistry at Trinity College Dublin.
The Director of Public Prosecutions had decided that the pair should be tried by "summary disposal", at district court level, only if they pleaded guilty to the cybercrime. Otherwise they would face trial before a judge and jury in a Circuit Criminal Court, which can impose tougher sentences.
Yesterday, the students' lawyers indicated that guilty pleas were being entered. Fine Gael said it cost €10,000 to get the site up and running again.
Det Gda Brennan agreed with Martyn's solicitor Matthew Kenny that "it was a stunt to embarrass a political party rather than to disclose data to the public at large".
The offence, at district court level, can lead to a conviction, a fine and can carry a maximum 12-month jail term. Judge Ryan described the offence as "a terrible abuse of talent" and said they had used their expertise in "a criminal way". She warned that 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 to pay for the damage to the Fine Gael site. She also asked the Probation Service to prepare a restorative justice report on the hackers.
This can involve a meeting between the offender and the victim to discuss the impact of the crime. The judge indicated that if the money was paid and the report was positive, the Probation Act would be applied, which would see the students spared custodial sentences and criminal records.
The pair, who were accompanied to the hearing by family members, did not address the court and were remanded on continuing bail pending sentence after the judge heard that they were found to be suitable for inclusion in the restorative justice programme.