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FBI Arrests Penn Student in Global Botnet Crackdown

The FBI has charged a University of Pennsylvania student and a New Zealand hacker as part of an international probe into the spread of botnets, large replicating malicious software networks, the Associated Press reported.

Ryan Goldstein, 21, was one of eight people have that have been indicted, pleaded guilty, or convicted since the investigation started in June, the AP said. Thirteen additional warrants have been served in the United States and overseas in the investigation, which the FBI said has uncovered more than $20 million in economic losses.

Law enforcement in New Zealand has searched the residence of Owen Walker, an 18-year-old suspected to be the ringleader of the group, which is believed to have infected more than 1 million computers, the FBI said. The federal agency identified the person by the online handle, "AKILL."

AKILL and Goldstein were allegedly involved in crashing a University of Pennsylvania engineering school server Feb. 23, 2006, according to the FBI.

The server, which normally handles about 450 daily requests for Internet downloads, got 70,000 requests from the account of an unsuspecting Penn student over four days, the FBI said. Over time, the FBI followed an electronic trail from that student's account to Goldstein's screen name, "Digerati," and the New Zealand hacker.

The crash briefly shut down computers at Penn's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences but did relatively little damage, university spokesman Ron Ozio told the AP.

Patricia Hartman, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, told UPI that Goldstein prevailed upon Walker to use his botnet to launch denial of service attacks on several Internet discussion forums from which he had been banned.

The New Zealand hacker told him "basically, 'I can do it, but I need a place to load this software,'" Hartman told UPI.

Goldstein has pleaded not guilty and was released on bail while awaiting a trial set for March 10. He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted of the single count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud.

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About the Author

Paul McCloskey is contributing editor of Syllabus.

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