LOS ANGELES, Calif. – A 20-year-old Briton suspected of links to the hacking group Lulz Security is accused of cracking into websites for a Fox reality TV show, a venerable news show and other sites to deface them or steal personal information, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
A federal grand jury indicted Ryan Cleary on conspiracy and hacking charges for allegedly hacking sites for the talent competition “The X-Factor,” the site for “PBS NewsHour,” Sony Pictures and others.
The indictment filed Tuesday alleges Cleary and his co-conspirators would identify security vulnerabilities in companies’ computer systems and use them to gain unauthorized access and, often, cause mayhem.
In a separate and similar case filed against Cleary in the United Kingdom in 2011, he faces allegations that he and others hacked a law enforcement agency, the Serious Organized Crime Agency, and various British music sites — all while he was still a teenager.
Cleary was taken into custody in March and remains in custody in the United Kingdom, said Laura Eimiller, FBI spokeswoman.
In one instance, the U.S. indictment alleges, Cleary conspired to steal the confidential information of people who registered to get information on auditions for the Fox talent competition “The X-Factor.”
That hack was the first to be claimed by LulzSec, an offshoot of the larger hacking group Anonymous, in tweets about its international hacking spree that began in May 2011.
Later that month, LulzSec claimed to have hacked the website of the Public Broadcasting Service, where a phoney news story was posted claiming the dead rapper Tupac Shakur was alive and living in New Zealand.
The post caused a stir on the site for “PBS NewsHour,” an award-winning broadcast news show, and came after the network aired a documentary on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that was deemed critical. PBS’ ombudsman at the time defended the program’s treatment of Assange as “tough but proper.”
The indictment also alleges LulzSec and Cleary hacked into the computer systems of Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. in June 2011 to steal confidential information of users who had registered on the company’s website.
Cleary faces a maximum of 25 years if convicted on all charges.
Calls and emails to Fox, Sony and “The NewsHour” seeking comment and confirmation were not immediately returned Wednesday.
An after-hours call to Cleary’s legal representative in London was not returned. It was not immediately clear who would represent him in the United States.
LulzSec also has claimed responsibility for hacking incidents not listed in Cleary’s indictment, including hacking the CIA’s public-facing website and the Atlanta chapter of an FBI partner organization called InfraGard.
Shaya Tayefe Mohajer can be reached at —http://twitter.com/APShaya