By Dan Goodin in San Francisco
8th May 2008
Exclusive -- One day in May 2005, a 16-year-old hacker named SoBe opened
his front door to find a swarm of FBI agents descending on his family's
three-story house in Boca Raton, Florida. With an arm and leg in casts
from a recent motorcycle accident, one agent grabbed his good arm while
others seized thousands of dollars worth of computers, video game
consoles and other electronics. His parents looked on.
At that moment, some 2,700 miles away, in the Los Angeles suburb of
Downey, California, the FBI was serving a separate search warrant on
Jeanson James Ancheta, SoBe's 20-year-old employer and hacking mentor.
It was the second time in six months Ancheta had been raided by the FBI
- a clear sign, had either bothered to notice, that their year-long
botnet spree was unravelling.
But instead of abandoning the venture after the first raid, or at least
laying low for a while, SoBe and Ancheta, according to court documents,
continued hijacking hundreds of thousands of PCs that they would then
corral into massive networks and infect with adware. So great was SoBe's
sense of impunity he continued the scheme even after Ancheta was
arrested a few months later and charged with 17 felonies related to the
hijacking of almost 400,000 PCs, some of them belonging to the US
Department of Defense.
"That's why I love this age, its all computers heh," SoBe wrote in early
December 2005, a month after Ancheta's arrest, during an online chat.
"All these companys have websites, etc. Its just funny going somewhere
like Target, or Sprint then coming home and rooting there servers out of
boredom. Makes some people feel like they can do anything."
(Misspellings and grammatical errors are his.)
SoBe's adrenalin-fueled days of fast money were slowly coming to an end.
His downfall started shortly after he and Ancheta launched their botnet
venture, when some clumsy mistakes attracted the attention of federal
investigators. It continued as their homes were raided, and shortly
after that, when the feds seized more than $38,000 earmarked as SoBe's
cut of the botnet profits. Then in May 2006, SoBe was shocked when he
learned Ancheta received 57 months in prison after pleading guilty to
four counts of fraud related to the scheme.
His undoing was completed in February, seven months after SoBe turned
18, when he pleaded guilty to two counts of juvenile delinquency related
to his use of botnets.
SoBe - who also went under the names SoBe Owns, PwnZ0r, SerlissMc and
vapidz - admitted to infecting computers belonging to the Defense
Information Security Agency and Sandia National Laboratories. He was
sentenced today in a closed-door hearing. Although the actual sentence
is confidential because SoBe was a juvenile at time of the crimes, his
plea agreement contemplated a prison term of 12 to 18 months.
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