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Defendants Responsible for Creating “Mirai” and Clickfraud Botnet attacks plead guilty

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Three hackers have pleaded guilty to their role in developing, spreading and using Mirai malware botnet to conduct large-scale Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks on some of the Internet’s most popular websites and Dyn DNS, a prominent Domain Name Servers (DNS) service provider.

The Justice Department announced the guilty pleas in three cybercrime cases. In the District of Alaska, defendants pleaded guilty to creating and operating two botnets, which targeted “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices, and in the District of New Jersey, one of the defendants also pleaded guilty to launching a cyber attack on the Rutgers University computer network.

Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Bryan D. Schroder of the District of Alaska, Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick of the District of New Jersey and Assistant Director Scott Smith of the FBI Cyber Division made the announcement.

On Dec. 8, Paras Jha, 21, of Fanwood, New Jersey; Josiah White, 20, of Washington, Pennsylvania; and Dalton Norman, 21, of Metairie, Louisiana, pleaded guilty to criminal Informations in the District of Alaska charging them each with conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act in operating the Mirai Botnet.

In the summer and fall of 2016, White, Jha, and Norman created a powerful botnet – a collection of computers infected with malicious software and controlled as a group without the knowledge or permission of the computers’ owners. The Mirai Botnet targeted IoT devices – non-traditional computing devices that were connected to the Internet, including wireless cameras, routers, and digital video recorders. The defendants attempted to discover both known and previously undisclosed vulnerabilities that allowed them to surreptitiously attain control over the victim devices for the purpose of forcing the devices to participate in the Mirai Botnet.

At its peak, Mirai consisted of hundreds of thousands of compromised devices. The defendants used the botnet to conduct a number of powerful distributed denial-of-service, or “DDOS” attacks, which occur when multiple computers, acting in unison, flood the Internet connection of a targeted computer or computers. The defendants’ involvement with the original Mirai variant ended in the fall of 2016, when Jha posted the source code for Mirai on a criminal forum. Since then, other criminal actors have used Mirai variants in a variety of other attacks.

On Dec. 8, Paras Jha and Dalton Norman also pleaded guilty to criminal Informations in the District of Alaska charging each with conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act. From December 2016 to February 2017, the defendants successfully infected over 100,000 primarily U.S.-based computing devices, such as home Internet routers, with malicious software. That malware caused the hijacked home Internet routers and other devices to form a powerful botnet.

The victim devices were used primarily in advertising fraud, including “clickfraud,” a type of Internet-based scheme that makes it appear that a real user has “clicked” on an advertisement for the purpose of artificially generating revenue.

On Dec. 13, Paras Jha pleaded guilty in the District of New Jersey to violating the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act. Between November 2014 to September 2016, Jha executed a series of attacks on the networks of Rutgers University. Jha’s attacks effectively shut down Rutgers University’s central authentication server, which maintained, among other things, the gateway portal through which staff, faculty, and students delivered assignments and assessments.

At times, Jha succeeded in taking the portal offline for multi-day periods, harming Rutgers University, its faculty, and its students.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Cronan said,

“The Mirai and Clickfraud botnet schemes are powerful reminders that as we continue on a path of a more interconnected world, we must guard against the threats posed by cybercriminals that can quickly weaponize technological developments to cause vast and varied types of harm,”

“The Criminal Division will remain constantly vigilant in combating these sophisticated schemes, prosecuting cybercriminals, and protecting the American people.”

Court documents revealed that Jha erased the device he used to run Mirai on. Paras Jha “securely erased the virtual machine used to run Mirai on his device. Jha posted the Mirai code online in order to create plausible deniability if law enforcement found the code on computers controlled by Jha or his co­-conspirators,”

U.S. Attorney Schroder stated,

“Our world has become increasingly digital, and increasingly complex,”

“Cybercriminals are not concerned with borders between states or nations, but should be on notice that they will be held accountable in Alaska when they victimize Alaskans in order to perpetrate criminal schemes. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, along with our partners at the FBI and Department of Justice‘s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS), are committed to finding these criminals, interrupting their networks, and holding them accountable.”

According to a document sharted by Brian Krebs, under Jha’s click fraud guilty plea agreement, he would hand over 13 bitcoin to the United States government. White, on the other hand, has agreed to pay 33 bitcoin. The current price of 33 Bitcoin is more than $547,469 while 13 Bitcoin is $215,669.

Acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick said,

“Paras Jha has admitted his responsibility for multiple hacks of the Rutgers University computer system,”

“These computer attacks shut down the server used for all communications among faculty, staff and students, including assignment of course work to students, and students’ submission of their work to professors to be graded. The defendant’s actions effectively paralyzed the system for days at a time and maliciously disrupted the educational process for tens of thousands of Rutgers’ students. Today, the defendant has admitted his role in this criminal offense and will face the legal consequences for it.”

FBI Assistant Director Smith added,

“These cases illustrate how the FBI works tirelessly against the actions of criminals who use malicious code to cause widespread damage and disruptions to the general population,”

“The FBI is dedicated to working with its domestic and international partners to aggressively pursue these individuals and bring justice to the victims.”