Feeds

I Was A Teenage Bot Master

The Confessions of SoBe Owns

Protecting against web application threats using SSL

Exclusive One day in May 2005, a 16-year-old hacker named SoBe opened his front door to find a swarm of FBI agents descending on his family's three-story house in Boca Raton, Florida. With an arm and leg in casts from a recent motorcycle accident, one agent grabbed his good arm while others seized thousands of dollars worth of computers, video game consoles and other electronics. His parents looked on.

At that moment, some 2,700 miles away, in the Los Angeles suburb of Downey, California, the FBI was serving a separate search warrant on Jeanson James Ancheta, SoBe's 20-year-old employer and hacking mentor. It was the second time in six months Ancheta had been raided by the FBI - a clear sign, had either bothered to notice, that their year-long botnet spree was unravelling.

Screenshot of SoBe in hospital

SoBe, a few weeks before the raid

But instead of abandoning the venture after the first raid, or at least laying low for a while, SoBe and Ancheta, according to court documents, continued hijacking hundreds of thousands of PCs that they would then corral into massive networks and infect with adware. So great was SoBe's sense of impunity he continued the scheme even after Ancheta was arrested a few months later and charged with 17 felonies related to the hijacking of almost 400,000 PCs, some of them belonging to the US Department of Defense.

"That's why I love this age, its all computers heh," SoBe wrote in early December 2005, a month after Ancheta's arrest, during an online chat. "All these companys have websites, etc. Its just funny going somewhere like Target, or Sprint then coming home and rooting there servers out of boredom. Makes some people feel like they can do anything." (Misspellings and grammatical errors are his.)

SoBe's adrenalin-fueled days of fast money were slowly coming to an end. His downfall started shortly after he and Ancheta launched their botnet venture, when some clumsy mistakes attracted the attention of federal investigators. It continued as their homes were raided, and shortly after that, when the feds seized more than $38,000 earmarked as SoBe's cut of the botnet profits. Then in May 2006, SoBe was shocked when he learned Ancheta received 57 months in prison after pleading guilty to four counts of fraud related to the scheme.

His undoing was completed in February, seven months after SoBe turned 18, when he pleaded guilty to two counts of juvenile delinquency related to his use of botnets.

SoBe - who also went under the names SoBe Owns, PwnZ0r, SerlissMc and vapidz - admitted to infecting computers belonging to the Defense Information Security Agency and Sandia National Laboratories. He was sentenced today in a closed-door hearing. Although the actual sentence is confidential because SoBe was a juvenile at time of the crimes, his plea agreement contemplated a prison term of 12 to 18 months.

Notes from the Internet Underground

In November, 2005, just a few days after Ancheta was indicted, SoBe began an internet correspondence with me that continued until a few weeks before he pleaded guilty. The result was more than 80 pages of single-spaced transcripts that provided a sometimes-candid, behind-the-scenes account of his botnet caper and the investigation that ultimately shut it down.

The conversations revealed a youth of above-average intelligence who nonetheless quit school after the eighth grade. With an abundance of time on his hands and little adult supervision, he thrived on the excitement of a life dominated by World of Warcraft, fast motorcycles and computer hacking. The Register is not identifying him because his crimes took place while he was a minor.

Read on to learn how SoBe and Resilient met

Reducing the cost and complexity of web vulnerability management

More from The Register

next story
Spies would need SUPER POWERS to tap undersea cables
Why mess with armoured 10kV cables when land-based, and legal, snoop tools are easier?
Early result from Scots indyref vote? NAW, Jimmy - it's a SCAM
Anyone claiming to know before tomorrow is telling porkies
Apple Pay is a tidy payday for Apple with 0.15% cut, sources say
Cupertino slurps 15 cents from every $100 purchase
Israeli spies rebel over mass-snooping on innocent Palestinians
'Disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear' vow spy-chiefs
YouTube, Amazon and Yahoo! caught in malvertising mess
Cisco says 'Kyle and Stan' attack is spreading through compromised ad networks
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
Microsoft to patch ASP.NET mess even if you don't
We know what's good for you, because we made the mess says Redmond
NORKS ban Wi-Fi and satellite internet at embassies
Crackdown on tardy diplomatic sysadmins providing accidental unfiltered internet access
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.