Experts at SophosLabs inform that a teenage hacker in New Zealand, who made headlines around the world at the time of his arrest, has escaped jail and may assist the police in finding other cybercriminals.
Owen Thor Walker, pleaded guilty earlier this year to six charges that between January 30, 2006 and November 28, 2007 he accessed computers for dishonest purposes and without authorization, damaged computer systems, and possessed software for the purposes of committing a computer crime.
Although the 18-year-old had pleaded guilty to the offences, Hamilton High Court in New Zealand discharged his case without conviction, meaning his record will not include a criminal offense.
Walker, who went by the online handle “AKILL” and was arrested in November 2007, had been accused of playing a key role in a gang that infected 1.3 million computers around the world, installing revenue-generating adware and stealing information worth US $20 million. At the time of his arrest he was dubbed the “botnet king” by media around the world.
However, the court heard evidence that Walker was in fact employed by the gang to write malware that then stole bank account information.
The court was told that police were interested in using Walker’s skills to help them fight internet crime, although no formal offer has yet been made. Judge Judith Potter ordered Walker to pay more than US $11,000 in fines, including over $7,000 to the University of Pennsylvania who suffered damage to their computer network. Walker, who is said to have been paid approximately US $30,000 by the gang, also had his computer equipment seized.
“It wouldn’t be the first time that a hacker has helped the police catch other internet criminals. For instance, David L Smith, the author of the Melissa virus, assisted the authorities in capturing the creator of the Anna Kournikova worm and Welsh virus writer Simon Vallor,” said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. “Clearly, as Owen was working with an organized criminal gang he may have information that could lead to successful convictions in the future.”
“It’s important hat other hackers do not take this New Zealand judgment as a green light to continue their activities – with the hope that if caught they will be able to jump to the aid of a grateful police force,” continued Cluley. “Computer crime has become more serious in recent years, as the culprits turn from mischief to money as their motive. Courts worldwide are becoming less lenient to those they find are supporting cybercrime gangs.”