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Alleged LulzSec associate Ryan Cleary charged in the US, facing 25 years

A young British man already in UK custody over five computer-related offences has been formally charged in the US on similar hacking and conspiracy charges.

Ryan Cleary, 20, is alleged to have had links with Anonymous-related hacking group Lulz Security (LulzSec), with the Stateside indictment claiming the Essexonian ran a powerful botnet used to execute distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks, vandalise websites, and steal sensitive data.

Specifically, the new charges contend that Cleary hacked into computer systems belonging to Sony Pictures Entertainment in June 2011 to obtain sensitive information about registered users.

In another instance, he stands accused of conspiring to steal data pertaining to people who had registered for the US version of popular reality talent show The X-Factor, owned across the pond by Fox.

In the UK, Cleary was taken into custody in March after breaching the bail conditions imposed on him following his arrest last June. He is said to have played a significant role in attacks on the British Phonographic Industry - who are responsible for the court order forcing broadband providers to block Swedish file-sharing site the Pirate Bay - and SOCA, the Serious Organised Crime Agency.

It remains to be seen whether the UK will agree to extradite Mr Cleary - who suffers from high-functioning autism disorder Asperger's Syndrome - to the US or whether an agreement will be reached to allow him to stand trial solely in his home country. If convicted on all charges in America, Cleary would face a maximum jail term of 25 years.

At present, the longest sentence ever imposed in the United States for cyber-crime stands at 20 years, doled out by a New Jersey court to Albert Gonzalez for hacking into the TJX Companies database and stealing more than 90 million credit card details.

Anonymous satellite group LulzSec officially disbanded last year after the group fell under intense scrutiny from law enforcement agencies worldwide for its high-profile hacks and alleged group leader Hector "Sabu" Monsegur turned FBI informant following his apprehension.

Recently, a hacktivist group called LulzSec Reborn has emerged, announcing itself as a reincarnation of the infamous group by data breaking a military dating website.