Hacker Sentenced in Spam Case

Times Staff Writer

A Downey man was sentenced to nearly five years in federal prison Monday for using malicious software to seize control of 400,000 computers and then selling access to the “zombie” machines to spammers and hackers.

Prosecutors said the 57-month sentence for Jeanson James Ancheta, 21, was the longest ever handed down for spreading computer viruses. The case also marked the first federal prosecution for using such hacking methods for financial gain.

Ancheta pleaded guilty in January to selling access to so-called botnet software that can remotely control computers to deliver spam and orchestrate distributed denial-of-service attacks against websites. Such attacks send overwhelming streams of requests to the sites, causing them to shut down.

Ancheta advertised his botnets online under the heading “botz4sale.”

“Your worst enemy is your own intellectual arrogance that somehow the world cannot touch you on this,” U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner said at the sentencing hearing.


Ancheta also admitted to directing armies of infected computers to download adware -- malicious software that causes advertising messages to appear on the user’s screen and can harm affected computers.

He collected $107,000 in commissions from the advertising companies.

Ancheta used an elaborate subterfuge to hide his actions from the victims and from the companies whose messages were displayed on their computers, said Assistant U.S. Atty. James M. Aquilina.

Ancheta also was ordered to pay $15,000 in restitution to the Naval Air Warfare Center in China Lake and the Defense Information Systems agency, whose computers were compromised by the botnet attacks.

“Every conviction raises the barrier to entry for these guys,” said Scott Weiss, CEO of IronPort Systems in San Bruno, Calif., which produces anti-spam software.

But, he predicted, such crimes would remain common.

“Most of these bot networks are not being run from suburban L.A.,” Weiss said. “They hire guys in places like Ukraine where the long arm of the law doesn’t reach as easily.”