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Online Casino Hacker Sentenced

By: Mark Freedman, Sunday March 20th 2011
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Ashley Mitchell, the 29 year old Briton who had earlier this year hacked into Zynga and had stolen $12 million worth of virtual chips was sentenced by the Exeter Crown Court this week. He was facing four charges of converting criminal property as well as consequences for violating the Computer Misuse Act. Mitchell received a prison term of two years for this offence. In an unrelated hacking incident carried out by Mitchell in 2008 involving a local government network, he had received a 40 week suspended sentence. Now, because of the Zynga hacking Mitchell has breached the terms of the suspended sentence and was therefore ordered to an additional 30 weeks of imprisonment.

Mitchell hacked into Zynga's servers and stole 400 billion virtual poker chips. If Zynga had sold these chips to its players it would have earned $12 million. These virtual chips cannot be converted to cash. The only way Mitchell could get value for his effort was to sell these chips to other Zynga players on the black market. He tried to do this at a price well below the face value of the chips. He was able to get rid of only $86,000 worth of his loot when he got caught. Had he been able to sell everything at these rates he would have made $300,000. This is nothing compared to the face value of the chips but is a lot of money all the same.

Judge Philip Wassal, who was hearing the case, told Mitchell, "You used a considerable amount of expertise, through software you bought, to hack into their computer system. The means by which you gained access through their security showed elaborate research and a lot of persistence. The time you must have spent doing this must have been considerable." The judge said in his order, "People rely on computer systems. Anyone who has managed to get into these systems for their own ends should expect a stiff sentence."

During the hearing, Prosecutor Gareth Evans had pointed out that Zynga's currency is in-game and exists online only. The theft therefore did not directly affect the company's revenue as most customer thefts do. Zynga could always recreate the "money" Mitchell stole. However, the theft could result in a loss of clientele for Zynga, because users who fear falling prey to hackers may leave the site. Mitchell, who had pleaded guilty, is said to be struggling with a gambling addiction. His lawyer, Ben Darby admitted that his client was spending £1,000 a day on online casinos and poker rooms.

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