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USC grad student charged with unleashing cyberattack on Bay Area tech company

USC grad student charged with unleashing cyberattack on Bay Area tech company
Students walk on the campus of the University of Southern California. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

A USC graduate student from La Cañada Flintridge has been indicted on a charge that he waged a cyberattack on a San Francisco tech company.

A grand jury handed down the indictment on Dec. 1, accusing Sean Sharma of carrying out a so-called distributed denial of service attack on the web servers belonging to Chatango, according to court papers filed in U.S. District Court.

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If convicted, Sharma, 26, faces up to 10 years in prison.

The FBI said Sharma purchased a tool to carry out the DDoS attack and released it on Chatango's servers during a more than two-month period starting Nov. 6, 2014. A DDoS attack functions by overloading a company's servers with a glut of junk traffic, rendering them inaccessible.

Prosecutors allege Sharma intentionally harmed the company's servers and said the damage exceeded $5,000.

Chatango provides chat services to third-party websites.

Sharma was arrested Dec. 9 in La Cañada Flintridge and appeared in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom. He's scheduled to appear Friday in a San Francisco courtroom for his arraignment.

Sharma remains free on $100,000 bond. As a condition of release, he was ordered not to access specific websites, including hackforums.net, and was barred from using a VPN, or virtual private network, according to court papers.

Sharma could not be reached for comment, and it's unclear if he is being represented by an attorney.

According to his résumé, Sharma graduated in 2015 with a bachelor's degree from USC. His undergraduate studies focused on computer science, specifically gaming, according to his website.

He was enrolled in a master's program in computer science at USC and anticipated graduating in 2017.

Twitter: @MattHjourno.

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