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Trial set for 'botnet for hire' duo

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A federal judge has cleared the way for the trial of two men accused of waging a cyber attack on a webhosting company so they could demonstrate the effectiveness of their botnet to potential customers.

The trial of Thomas James Frederick Smith, 21, most recently of Parris Island, South Carolina, and David Anthony Edwards, 20, of Mesquite, Texas, is scheduled to begin on November 16, according to documents filed in federal court in Dallas. The men were indicted in April on a single count each of conspiracy to intentionally cause damage to a protected computer.

Each has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors allege that that pair, who went by handles including "Zook," "kingsmith007" and "Davus," developed botnet software they dubbed Nettick. They then advertised their botnet services online and told one potential purchaser they had infected nearly 22,000 computers with the malware. They offered to sell each for 15 cents with a minimum purchase of 5,000, according to the indictment.

To show the power of their zombie net, in August 2006 they enlisted a portion of it to carry out a DDoS, or distributed denial of service, attack on an IP address used by ThePlanet.com. The prospective customer then offered to buy the Nettick source code and the entire botnet for about $3,000.

Smith directed the purchaser to place a $1,600 down payment into an E-Gold account. The money was eventually transferred to a bank account under Smith's control, prosecutors said.

In September 2006, the men also allegedly breached systems operated by another webhost, T35.net. Once in, they extracted shadow password files and used a password cracking tool to extract hundreds of thousands of user IDs and access codes. The pair then defaced the website and rebuked T35 admins with the words "How are all the users going to be compensated?"

If convicted, the pair face a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 each. US District Judge Jane J. Boyle will preside over the trial. ®

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