By Dan Goodin in San Francisco
12th February 2008
A young hacker accused of helping to corral more than 400,000 computers
into a money-making botnet has pleaded guilty to criminal charges in
connection with the scheme, which he admits damaged US military
The defendant was identified only by the the initials B.D.H. because he
was a juvenile when the crimes were committed. He is better known by the
handle "SoBe" in internet relay channels frequented by hackers. He
appeared in US District Court in Los Angeles on Monday, where he pleaded
guilty to two counts of juvenile delinquency. His plea agreement
contemplates a sentence of one year to 18 months in prison.
SoBe entered the public spotlight in November 2005 as an "unindicted
co-conspirator" to Jeanson James Ancheta, who eventually pleaded guilty
to four felony charges in connection with the same botnet. With SoBe
located in Boca Raton, Florida, and Ancheta working in Downey,
California, the two built a lucrative business by surreptitiously
installing adware on computers and then pocketing affiliate fees.
According to court documents, the pair collected at least $58,000 in 13
months, but it's possible they made much more.
"It's immoral, but the money makes it right," Ancheta told SoBe during
one online chat, according to the indictment charging Ancheta.
"I just hope this stuff lasts a while so I don't have to get a job right
away," SoBe told Ancheta during a different conversation.
Among the computers infected by SoBe and Ancheta were those belonging to
the Defense Information Security Agency. SoBe also claimed to have pwned
machines maintained by Sandia National Laboratories.
While the two hackers weren't able to write their own malware - they
made modifications to a well-known program called rxbot - they showed
some skill in varying the download times and rates of the adware
installations. That allowed them to evade detection by network
administrators and security analysts. After collecting fees, the men
used the infected computers to seek and infect new machines.
They also discussed temporarily shutting down their operations in
response to enforcement actions by the FBI. In May 2006, Ancheta, who
was an adult at the time of the offense, was sentenced to 57 months in
Under federal guidelines SoBe faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in
custody, although juveniles can't be incarcerated beyond the age of 21.
His sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 8.
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