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Feds cuff coder accused of US bank source code swipe

Alleged thief 'nicked $9.5m software to train his students'

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A computer programmer has been charged with stealing source code worth $9.5m from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, according to the FBI and prosecutors.

Bo Zhang, a 32-year-old from Queens in New York, was cuffed on suspicion of swiping the Government-wide Accounting and Reporting (GWA) software, used to help keep track of the US government's finances.

"Among other things, the GWA handles ledger accounting for each appropriation, fund, and receipt within the Department of the Treasury, and provides federal agencies with an account statement - similar to bank statements provided to bank customers - of the agencies’ account balances with the United States Treasury," the US attorney's office for the Southern District of New York said in an official statement.

Zhang was hired as a contractor to work on the code where it's held in an access-controlled electronic repository in New York. During last summer he allegedly stole the GWA code, which has so far cost the US $9.5m to develop.

"According to the complaint, Zhang admitted that in July 2011, while working at the Fed, he checked out and copied the GWA code onto his hard drive at the Fed; he subsequently copied the GWA code onto an Fed-owned external hard drive; and he connected that external hard-drive to his private office computer, his home computer, and his laptop," the US attorney's office added.

"Zhang stated that he used the GWA Code in connection with a private business he ran training individuals in computer programming."

Despite Zhang's rather innocuous purported use for the code, he was arrested by the FBI on Wednesday morning and now faces up to ten years in prison and fines of up to $250,000.

"Zhang took advantage of the access that came with his trusted position to steal highly sensitive proprietary software. His intentions with regard to that software are immaterial. Stealing it and copying it threatened the security of vitally important source code," FBI assistant director-in-charge Janice K Fedarcyk said.

A New York Fed spokesperson told Reuters and others that the bank had investigated the breach as soon as it was uncovered and promptly referred the case to the authorities.

"The New York Fed has further strengthened its already considerable protections as a result of this incident," the spokesman said. ®

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