California Man Pleads Guilty to Felony Hacking

By DAN GOODIN, AP Technology Writer

A 20-year-old man pleaded guilty Monday to surreptitiously seizing control of hundreds of thousands of Internet-connected computers and renting the zombie network to people who mounted attacks on Web sites, served up pop-up ads and sent out spam.

Jeanson James Ancheta, of Downey, Calif., pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles to four felony charges for crimes, including infecting machines at two U.S. military sites, that earned him more than $61,000, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Aquilina said.

Under a plea agreement, which still must be approved by a judge, Ancheta will receive from 4 years to 6 years in prison, forfeit a 1993 BMW and more than $58,000 in profit and pay $19,000 in restitution to the federal government to compensate for infecting the military computers, according to documents filed in the case.

He is scheduled to be sentenced May 1.

Prosecutors said the case is the first to target profits derived from use of 'botnets,' the term used to describe large numbers of infected computers that work in unison to attack Web sites, send spam and carry out other tasks.

The botnets feed off of vulnerabilities in computers that run Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating system.

A November indictment charged Ancheta with 17 counts of conspiracy, fraud and other crimes connected to a 14-month hacking spree that started in June 2004.

Ancheta's crimes continued even after FBI agents raided his house in Downey, about 13 miles southeast of Los Angeles, in December 2004, authorities said.

'Part of what's most troubling about those who commit these kinds of offenses is they think they'll never be caught,' said Aquilina, who spent more than a year investigating Ancheta and several of Ancheta's online associates who remain uncharged co-conspirators.

Ancheta's attorney, federal public defender Greg Wesley, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

The guilty plea comes less than a week after the FBI released a report that estimates viruses, worms and Trojan horses like the ones Ancheta used cost U.S. organizations such as Microsoft $11.9 billion each year.

Copyright 2006, The Associated Press.

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