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Teenage hacker masterminds worldwide attacks

An 18-year-old boy from New Zealand, who instigated botnet attacks that corrupted over a million computers around the world, now faces sentencing after being caught.

A teenager has been found guilty of masterminding botnet attacks that are estimated to have infected over a million computers and created havoc for computer users at home and in business.

Eighteen-year-old Owen Thor Walker from Whitianga in New Zealand pleaded guilty to six charges stemming from his highly sophisticated series of international computer attacks carried out between January 2006 and November 2007.

A botnet is a system of computers that have been compromised by malicious code and then secretly used to collect information such as users' bank accounts and credit cards.

Walker's botnet carried out transactions that resulted in as much as $20 million (10 million) of damage, although he only made a profit of just under $40,000 (20,000), The New Zealand Herald reported.

The prosecution summary in the case against Walker said his was "amongst the most advanced bot programming" that local cyber crime investigators had encountered. His botnet included many sophisticated features, including one that disabled anti-virus software on computers it attacked and prevented the software from updating itself.

According to a summary of facts of the case, Walker's offences fall into four categories, including the creation, possession and installation of computer software that allows for unauthorised access to computer systems. Additionally, he used his unauthorised access to these computers for monetary gain.

The most serious charge against Walker is his use of unauthorised access to damage or interfere with computer systems. This charge carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.

Walker was eventually discovered as the mastermind by an investigation that started after his botnet shut down a computer server at the University of Pennsylvania in February 2006.

This attack prompted an investigation by the FBI, and another attack in the Netherlands led authorities there to estimate Walker was responsible for 1.3 million illegal installations of adware.

The search for Walker was not an easy one because his botnet code allowed him to operate through a randomly selected computer in another location, making him difficult to trace.

The teen, who taught himself botnet coding, suffers from a mild form of autism called Asperger's syndrome, which is often characterised by extraordinary intelligence in a particular field.

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