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Friday, October 8, 1999 Published at 18:22 GMT 19:22 UK


Phone hacker dials 106,000 bill

A 20-year-old telephone hacker has escaped jail after using his computer skills to run up an illegal 106,000 phone bill.

Paul Spiby was aged just 18 when he discovered he could ring round the world using just an ordinary laptop and considerable amounts of telephone trickery, Southwark Crown Court heard.

Some of the calls he made lasted nearly six hours and during the six months his crimes went undetected, they amounted to a staggering 64 days on the phone.

Judge George Bathurst-Norman told Spiby of Ginson Avenue, Cosby, Leicester, that he was an "absolute menace" and had only just escaped jail.

Working from his bedroom, the teenager used a series of computer-generated tones, transmitted down a line to Nicaragua, to fool the Overseas Exchange into thinking he had ended his call.

Instead, he was able to keep the line open, dial any number he wanted without paying a penny, and join a select group of hackers called "Phreakers".

However, despite the six-figure loss to British Telecom - deemed unrecoverable - technical reasons meant he could be charged only with extracting electricity worth a few pence.

Evidence destroyed

Prosecuting, Tudor Owen said Spiby, who admitted 14 sample Theft Act counts of extracting electricity, possessed an "extremely detailed knowledge of computers".

The barrister said the scam relied on the fact that not all overseas telephone networks were as advanced as Britain's, and meant the abuse was impossible to prevent, and difficult to detect.

British Telecom finally realised something was amiss when it discovered that an abnormal number of phone calls, lasting hours, were being made from the telephone registered in the name of the teenager's father.

When police, armed with a search warrant called at his home, Spiby pretended no-one was in so he could "destroy incriminating evidence".

Passing sentence, Judge Bathurst-Norman said: "In the circumstances I have just come to the conclusion that it would be wrong to say you should go to prison."

Instead Spiby received a 100-hour community service order, combined with two years' probation.

The judge, who also ordered Spiby's equipment to be confiscated, added: "You are clearly a very able young man ... now stay out of trouble."

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