A former employee has pleaded guilty to blackmailing an Oxford gene and cell therapy company for £300,000 worth of Bitcoin.

Ashley Liles, of Fleetwood, Hertfordshire, has been charged with unauthorised computer access with intent to commit an offence and blackmail. 

The 28-year-old gained access to an unauthorised computer between February 28, 2018, and March 13, 2018. 

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He is accused of using this computer to blackmail Oxford BioMedica after making an ‘unwarranted demand’ for £300,000 in Bitcoin, which is a virtual currency.

Liles also pleaded guilty to the unauthorised modification of computer material between February 16, 2018, and March 13, 2018.

He originally denied the charges and was due to stand trial at Reading Crown Court last week (May 17).

However, the trial has since cracked after Liles pleaded guilty to both counts.

The case has now been adjourned for sentencing at the same court on July 11.

South East Regional Organised Crime Unit, which investigated the case, said Liles was a security analyst at Oxford Biomedica when the firm was hacked in February 2018. 

He was part of the team that began investigating the attack. But, unknown to anyone else, he began his own attack on the company that saw him alter the original blackmail email in order to change the payment address provided by the attacker.

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He did it in the hope that payment - if it were made - would be made to him rather than the original hacker, police said. 

Liles created a new email address that was nearly identical to the original hackers, and started emailing his employer - putting them under pressure to pay the cash.

No payment was made and detectives were able to identify Liles from searches he had made on the company's computer system. His home was searched, his computer and other digital devices seized, and data recovered from them.

DI Rob Bryant of the South East Regional Organised Crime Unit's cyber crime team said: “I would like to thank the company and their employees for their support and cooperation during this investigation.

"I hope this sends a clear message to anyone considering committing this type of crime. We have a team of cyber experts who will always carry out a thorough investigation to catch those responsible and ensure they are brought to justice.” 

The police said that firms who believed they had been the victim of cyber crime should contact Action Fraud immediately.