Scottish botnet master jailed for 18 months
Controlling the net from mum's front room
A Scottish botnet master was this morning jailed for 18 months and ordered to pay £5,000 costs for hijacking many thousands of computers from his mum's front room.
Matthew Anderson, 33, from Drummuir, used the global network of compromised machines to send tens of millions of spam emails. The father of five, whose own home was too remote to get broadband, also stole personal data and spied on victims via their webcams.
Known in malware circles as "Warpigs", in 2005 he commissioned a Finnish programmer to create sophisticated, IRC-controlled bots and backdoor viruses, including "Breplibot". He disguised these Trojans as legitimate files, and used an existing list of four million email addresses to build the botnet through malicious attchments.
Anderson, who pleaded guilty in October, sat impassively in the dock at Southwark Crown Court as the sentence was delivered.
"Clearly, only a custodial sentence is justified," said Judge Geoffrey Rivlin QC, spurning appeals by the defence for a suspended sentence.
The judge added that had the offences been committed since October 2008, when the maximum sentence for offences under section three of the Computer Misuse act was doubled to 10 years, Anderson's sentence would be "at least" 36 months.
According to the prosecution's opening note to the sentencing hearing, Anderson made only £12,800 between September 2005 and his arrest on 27 June 2006, by sending up to 50 million junk emails. Winston Lay, a Suffolk businessman who did not know Anderson was using illegal methods to distribute marketing material, paid him for business leads.
"The computers that I did this from did not come to any harm," he told investigating officers from the Met's Police Central e-Crime Unit (PCeU) following his arrest.
"I did not steal information from them, I wasn't out to do identity theft or anything like that, my main aim was to support my family and generate leads for Winston. Winston did not know how I went about this, I just provided him with a list of emails once a week, maybe twice a week sometimes."
However, analysis of the computer Anderson used at his mum's showed he had stolen data. He had used his access to upload software to to log keystrokes, and to download intimate photographs, medical information, CVs, a will, and webcam images he had covertly captured.
In an IRC exchange with "CraDle", Anderson described how he took control of a teenage girl's computer and took pictures as she became upset.
Warpigs: had some chick on webcam
Warpigs: changed her screen about a bit n she started to cry lol
Warpigs: then she phoned her dad haha
CraDle: hidden webcam or?
Warpigs: took pics :D
Warpigs: of her crying lol
Judge Rivlin said he took into account the "elective and selective" way Anderson deliberately stole sensitive data in sentencing.
'Being nosy, nothing more sinister than that'
Anderson's defence barrister, Simon Ward, said his motivation in the spying and data thefts was "a feeling of power that comes from control over something that other people don't know you have control over".
"It was the defendant being nosy, nothing more sinister than that," he said.
Ward said Anderson became interested in hacking in his early 20s, when a series of panic attacks led him to spend more time indoors.
By the time he commissioned Breplibot, Anderson was already on bail for orchestrating distributed-denial-of-service attacks against websites belonging to the British National Party and the Countryside Alliance. He was also running an unsuccessful legitimate computer security business, Opton-Security, which provided police with a vital link in their investigation of his malware operation.
In June 2006 security staff at the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford found that a compromised machine on their network was being steathily controlled by a rented server at Fasthosts in Gloucester.
PCeU, led by Detective Constable Bob Burls, found that the server was registered to Winston Lay, and associated with an email address, firstname.lastname@example.org. Inquiries at Paypal and eBay in turn linked the email address to Matthew Anderson, and to Opton-Security, his legitimate business.
After four days of warranted interception of traffic to the Fasthosts server, Anderson, Lay and Artturi Alm, the Finnish virus writer, were all arrested in coordinated raids. Alm pleaded guilty in Finland in 2008 and was jailed for 18 days. Lay was not charged and there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on his part.
DC Burls, whose investigation was formally commended by Judge Rivlin, said: "The internet means criminals have increased opportunities to commit crime internationally, however I'd like to reassure the public that the international law enforcement and anti-virus companies response is increasingly sophisticated.
"As this case shows, criminals can't hide online and are being held to account for their actions. A complex investigation like this demonstrates what international cooperation can achieve."
"Xaeti", an online friend of Anderson's, who according to the prosecution "was apparently a good programmer of viruses and an active member of online Trojan-producing community", also had control of the Fasthosts server. Believed to be a UK resident, he has not been traced. ®