IT guy jailed for ‘piggybacking’ $390k bitcoin blackmail plot

Two teen clipboard hackers took 16.4 Bitcoin in 2018. Now it's worth over $800,000 — but parents say the statute of limitations ran out.

A UK-based security analyst who attempted to blackmail the bio lab where he worked out of £300,000 ($390,000) has been sentenced to almost four years in prison. 

Twenty-seven-year-old Ashley Liles pleaded guilty in May to blackmail and the unauthorized modification of computer material following an attack on Hertfordshire-based gene therapy firm Oxford Biomedica in February 2018.

Liles was part of the team charged with investigating the data breach. However, instead of trying to track down the real culprit, Liles attempted to turn the attack to his own advantage by switching the original blackmail email and changing the payment address.

According to Oxford Biomedica’s CEO, Liles’ actions caused “reputational damage and outside costs of £245,000.”

Read more: Disbarred lawyer hid crypto, must pay $240M for student loan scam

Would-be blackmailer swapped bitcoin wallets

According to prosecutors, Liles accessed the email account of Oxford Biomedica’s former business officer Peter Nolan 320 times between March 2 and March 9, 2018. During this time, he changed the details of the hacker’s crypto address to point to his own bitcoin wallet in an attempt to pocket the crypto ransom. 

Liles also created an email account similar to the hacker’s to pressure the company into paying up but Oxford Biomedica never handed over any crypto. 

During the investigation into the breach, Liles pretended to cooperate. However, authorities soon discovered that he was, in fact, accessing Nolan’s emails via company computers. 

When Liles realized the police were closing in, he attempted to wipe any data linking him to the crime. However, he failed and during his arrest, his computer, laptop, phone, and USB stick were seized.  

Liles was sentenced on July 11 to 43 months in prison. He will serve half of his sentence before being released on license (a set of strict rules that must be followed outside of prison).

Liles’ barrister said his ‘lack of maturity’ pushed him to commit the crime, adding that Liles is “at a loss as to how he found himself committing these offenses. He’s not had any financial gain and he’s lost a huge amount — a good career, a good name,” (Via Oxford Mail).

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