Bot herder pleads guilty to 'zombie' sales

Botnets used for profit in 'first of its kind' case

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A 20-year-old California man has pleaded guilty to federal charges that he sold access to networks of compromised PCs and made money from illicitly installed adware, prosecutors announced on Monday.

Jeanson James Ancheta of Downey, California, entered a plea of guilty to four of the original 17 charges in the case, according to a statement issued by the US Attorney for the Central District of California. The four charges include two counts of conspiracy, damaging Government computers used for national defence, and accessing protected computers to commit fraud.

According to the plea agreement, Ancheta used automated software to infect Windows systems and create botnets - centrally controlled networks of compromised PCs - to which he sold access. Computers at the China Lake Naval Air Facility were among those compromised by the botnets investigated in the case. He also used the botnets to garner affiliate revenue from adware, the agreement stated.

"Ancheta admitted generating roughly $60,000 in advertising affiliate proceeds by directing more than 400,000 infected computers that were part of his botnet armies to other computer servers he controlled where adware he had modified would surreptitiously download onto the zombies," the US Attorney's Office statement said.

Authorities arrested Ancheta last fall in a case that prosecutors labelled the "first ... of its kind in the nation", because the charges directly stem from the profitable use of a botnet, and not merely the damage done to computers through the spread of code.

The guilty plea marks the latest success for investigators' attempts to track down and prosecute bot herders, the name security researchers have given to people that control the networks of compromised computers. In October, Dutch authorities arrested three men in the Netherlands who allegedly controlled a network of more than 1.5 million compromised computers. In August, the FBI and Microsoft helped authorities in Turkey and Morocco track down two men suspected of creating and spreading the Zotob worm - a program that consisted of bot software modified to exploit a flaw in Windows 2000.

The four charges could result in a maximum of 25 years of prison time and fines of $1m, if the judge in the case rules that the sentences should be served consecutively and levies the maximum fine.

As part of the plea agreement, Ancheta will forfeit more than $60,000 in proceeds, a 1993 BMW, and various computer equipment. In addition, the defendant has agreed to pay nearly $15,000 in restitution to the Government, the US Attorney office statement said.

The California man will be sentenced on May 1. Gregory Wesley, the federal public defender representing Ancheta, could not immediately be reached for comment.

This article originally appeared on SecurityFocus

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