Botnet hunter pleads guilty

Pleads guilty to accessing a computer system with the intention of dishonestly obtaining payment for the installation of adware.

Owen Walker, the 18-year-old New Zealander also known as Akill, has pleaded guilty to all charges he was facing under the NZ Crimes Act for his part in attacking the University of Pennsylvania's computer system and in a global adware scheme.

Walker pleaded guilty in the Thames District Court on Tuesday to accessing a computer system with the intention of dishonestly obtaining payment for the installation of adware, accessing a computer system without authorization, and several other charges related to his role in the attacks.

He will be sentenced on May 28, and a pre-sentencing report will be prepared between now and then.

The pre-sentence report would cover home detention, community detention and community work, said Judge Arthur Tompkins.

The only victim loss that the police can quantify is the cost incurred by the University of Pennsylvania. The denial of service attack cost the university around US$13,000 to mitigate, according to the police summary of facts.

Walker allegedly launched the DoS attack in collaboration with a second offender, Ryan Goldstein, a student at the university. Walker has admitted his association with Goldstein and to gaining access to the university's servers through him. Walker told police that he used the university's server to update his botnet, and that the DoS attack was unintended.

Goldstein pleaded guilty to the charges last month in a U.S. court.

If reparation is ordered, Walker's share would be around NZ$8,000 (US$6284.80) said the summary.

Judge Tompkins made no mention of a potential jail sentence.

Walker received almost NZ$40,000 in total from adware companies for installing adware using his botnet, according to the police documents. He used the money to buy computer equipment and he also made investments in a business run by his parents. His mother and stepfather knew he was making money out of doing online work but they did not realize he was engaged in illegal activity, says the summary.

Walker, hiding behind sunglasses and with the hood of his black jacket pulled up, left the Thames District Court together with his mother and his lawyer.

He was caught during an international investigation, Operation Bot Roast, during which his home was raided in November by New Zealand police and an FBI agent.

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Ulrika Hedquist

Computerworld New Zealand
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