Don’t hurt aspies, then play the aspie card

This past week it was reported in the news that Ryan Cleary, who had been arrested and charged over an alleged role in cracking the website of the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), which is a British police division, as well as launching denial-of-service attacks on two phonographic industry websites, has Asperger’s syndrome. He is currently in custody as prosecutors have appealed against the decision to grant him bail, which is likely now to be decided tomorrow. If he is bailed, he will be prohibited from accessing the internet or leaving the house unaccompanied by his mother. The Observer reported today that he is likely to have been exposed by other crackers as revenge for claiming to have breached their security.

Cleary is not believed to be part of LulzSec, the group of six crackers (note: crackers are people who crack other people’s systems, while hackers, properly used, refers to people who experiment with computers and programs for enjoyment) believed to have been behind attacks on AT&T, the Arizona police department (ostensibly in protest against the state’s immigration law, which requires police to check someone who might be an illegal immigrant, understood to mean anyone of Latino appearance), the US Senate among others, but may have assisted them in the SOCA incident. When the group posted their notice on Saturday saying they were disbanding, they claimed that it had all been about “Lulz”, i.e. a cheap laugh. (Except it’s not so cheap for those whose details have been stolen and released to the public.)

One of the papers reported that Cleary had spent almost his entire recent existence in one room of his house, with a blacked-out window, having all his meals delivered by his mother and leaving the room only to go to the toilet and the shower (and never leaving the home). His only company was his cat. His mother thinks he will be having a hard time in custody and that being extradited to the USA, if that is what happens, would kill him. On that issue alone I wholly symapthise, but anyone who gets involved with these cracking groups, using hundreds of other people’s computers to attack major targets for kicks, gets no sympathy from me.

He is not the only person with Asperger’s to conduct much of his social life over the Internet. Most of these people, however, do not use it for nefarious activities and causing pointless disruption. I am sure some of them are the unwitting computer users whose machines formed part of these “botnets” after getting hacked or getting a virus. Some of them may have had their password stolen and included in some big online posting, requiring them to change their passwords on several different websites. And some of them may just be among those experiencing slow or intermittent service perhaps because of denial of service attacks on various major websites, or whose blogs are experiencing a huge upsurge in spam (more than 200 in a couple of hours, for example). They may be among the women who were targeted by “Anonymous” for their misogynistic bullying campaign a few years ago. And it’s not just people with Asperger’s; it’s also those who are chronically ill, house-bound or even bedridden, whose online lives are at risk of being messed up by these malicious inadequates.

Of course, Cleary himself is innocent until proven guilty, and is accused of attacking only UK-based sites (so extradition to the USA is not an issue), and I hope that if he is sent to prison then it isn’t made excessively difficult, but if someone persists in using the Internet to cause harm, they need to be punished and they need to be kept off the net. They and their supporters should not play the Aspie card and expect sympathy from the autism/Aspie community, because that community are among those harmed by this behaviour, and have their name dragged through the mud whent they are only minding their own business.

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