Teen hacker arrest shows clampdown continues

Police authorities have confirmed the home of an 18-year-old New Zealander was raided earlier this week in a crackdown on an international cyber gang said to have infected over one million computers.

The teenager, who has not been named for legal reasons but is known by his online alias AKILL, was also arrested and questioned about his suspected part in the attacks but later released. Authorities said he is still under investigation.

The arrest was made as a result of collaboration between New Zealand police and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and came to the latter agency's attention after a botnet attributed to AKILL brought down a server at the US University of Pennsylvania in February 2006.

The FBI subsequently arrested 21-year-old Pennsylvania student Ryan Brett Goldstein, which led to the international investigation of AKILL - following up suggestions that the two allegedly conspired to launch a 50,000-computer botnet attack against several Internet Relay Chat (IRC) servers and a computer security website called ssgroup.org.

AKILL is suspected of having infected vulnerable PCs with malware known to security experts for a couple of years now as 'Akbot'. He is also thought to be the ringleader of a cyber gang known as the 'A-Team,' and is also being investigated by Dutch Independent Post and Telecommunications Authority for an adware attack that is thought to have infected over a million computers.

Graham Cluley, security consultant for vendor Sophos, told IT PRO the arrest represents a shift in the profiling of hackers. "It used to be spotty kids hacking for fun, now such kids are doing this damage for organised gangs," he said.

He added that the collaboration of US, Dutch and New Zealand authorities does send a clear signal that they are determined to pursue such crimes.

But he said the arrest was very unlikely to have a tangible impact on spam levels: "There are botwars happening where armies of gangs will take the opportunity to take over another, compromised gang's network of infected PCs."

New Zealand police said they will be analysing PCs seized in the raid on AKILL's house in the province of Waikato as part of their ongoing investigation.

The FBI said the New Zealand raid was part of a crackdown on botnets called "Operation Bot Roast" launched in June. The FBI said that, since then, it has charged or convicted eight men, executed 13 search warrants and uncovered more than $20 million (9.7 million) in related economic damages.

Miya Knights

A 25-year veteran enterprise technology expert, Miya Knights applies her deep understanding of technology gained through her journalism career to both her role as a consultant and as director at Retail Technology Magazine, which she helped shape over the past 17 years. Miya was educated at Oxford University, earning a master’s degree in English.

Her role as a journalist has seen her write for many of the leading technology publishers in the UK such as ITPro, TechWeekEurope, CIO UK, Computer Weekly, and also a number of national newspapers including The Times, Independent, and Financial Times.