[AfrICANN-discuss] Computer Security Consultant Charged With Infecting Up to a Quarter Million Computers that Were Used to Wiretap, Engage in Identity Theft, Defraud Banks

Anne-Rachel Inné annerachel at gmail.com
Thu Jan 31 19:19:28 SAST 2008

 UNITED STATES: Computer Security Consultant Charged With Infecting Up to a
Quarter Million Computers that Were Used to Wiretap, Engage in Identity
Theft, Defraud Banks
 *Wednesday, January 30, 2008*

In the first prosecution of its kind in the nation, a well-known member of
the "botnet underground" was charged today with using "botnets" - armies of
compromised computers - to steal the identities of victims across the
country by extracting information from their personal computers and
wiretapping their communications.

 John Schiefer, 26, of Los Angeles (90011), has agreed to plead guilty to
four felony counts: accessing protected computers to conduct fraud,
disclosing illegally intercepted electronic communications, wire fraud and
bank fraud.

 The criminal information and plea agreement filed this morning in United
States District Court in Los Angeles outline a series of schemes in which
Schiefer and several associates developed malicious computer code and
distributed that code to vulnerable computers. Schiefer and the others used
the illicitly installed code to assemble armies of up to 250,000 infected
computers, which they used to engage in a variety of identity theft schemes.
Schiefer also used the compromised computers to defraud a Dutch advertising

 In his plea agreement, Schiefer acknowledged installing malicious computer
code, or "malware," that acted as a wiretap on compromised computers.
Because the users of those compromised computers were unaware that their
computers had been turned into "zombies," they continued to use their
computers to engage in commercial activities. Schiefer used the malware,
which he called a "spybot," to intercept electronic communications being
sent over the Internet from those zombie computers to www.paypal.com and
other websites. Once in possession of those intercepted communications,
Schiefer and the others sifted through the data to mine usernames and
passwords. With Paypal usernames and passwords, Schiefer and the others
accessed bank accounts to make purchases without the consent of the true
owners. Schiefer also acknowledged in the plea agreement that he transferred
both the wiretapped communications and the stolen Paypal information to
others. It is the first time in the nation that someone has been charged
under the federal wiretap statute for conduct related to botnets.

 In another scheme, Schiefer installed malware on zombie computers running
Microsoft operating systems, causing them to disgorge usernames and
passwords from a secure storage area known as the PStore. Schiefer and his
co-schemers caused the zombie computers to send that account access
information to computers that Schiefer and his co-schemers controlled. Once
again, Schiefer located Paypal usernames and passwords among this data and
used that authentication information to access victim bank accounts.

 Finally, Schiefer acknowledged defrauding an Internet advertising company
with his botnets. Schiefer signed up as a consultant with a Dutch Internet
advertising company and promised to install the company''s programs on
computers only when the owners gave consent. Instead, Schiefer and two
co-schemers installed that program on approximately 150,000 computers that
were infected with their malware. To avoid detection by the advertising
company, Schiefer instructed his associates to moderate the number of
installations so it appeared that the installations were legitimate and not
the result of a malicious computer program that was propagating itself.
Schiefer was ultimately paid more than $19,128.35 by the advertising

 Schiefer has agreed to make an initial appearance in Los Angeles on
November 28 and to be arraigned on December 3.

 Once he pleads guilty to the four counts, Schiefer will face a statutory
maximum sentence of 60 years in federal prison and a fine of $1.75 million.

 This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

 By the Federa Bureau of Investigations- FBI.
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