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09 May 2006

57 months in prison for 21-year-old hacker who ran zombie network

Jeanson James Ancheta seized control of 400,000 computers

Behind bars
Ancheta has been sentenced to almost five years in jail.

Experts at SophosLabs™, Sophos's global network of virus, spyware and spam analysis center, have welcomed the news that a hacker has been sent to jail for almost five years for seizing control of hundreds of thousands of zombie computers, using them to display cash-generating adverts, and renting them out to hackers to send spam campaigns and launch denial of service attacks.

Jeanson James Ancheta, 21, from the Los Angeles suburb of Downey, profited by installing adware on a network of innocent third-party compromised computers. According to prosecutors, some of the computers attacked were at the Weapons Division of the US Naval Air Warfare Center in China Lake, California and at the US Department of Defense.

Ancheta admitted advertising his botnets online via an IRC channel entitled #botz4sale, selling access to software that could remotely control computers to deliver spam and launch distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks against websites. Websites hit by a DDoS attack could then be blackmailed into paying large sums of money to have the public's access to the websites restored.

Ancheta made more money by installing adware on the zombie computers, using the proceeds to pay for computer servers to carry out additional attacks, new clothes, and a luxury BMW car.

Ancheta has been sentenced to 57 months in prison, and was ordered to pay $15,000 to the military organizations whose computers were hit by his attacks.

"The US authorities will be delighted to have won this victory in the fight against serious internet crime, and it gives the man in the street some insight into the fortunes that can be made and the sheer scale of the zombie problem," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos. "But this remains the tip of the iceberg. Ancheta was based in California, making him within easy reach of investigators. Others running bot networks may be based anywhere in the world, meaning that to truly crack this problem more international co-operation is required."

Zombie computers - are your PCs under someone else's control?

Zombie computers can be used by criminal hackers to launch distributed denial-of-service attacks, spread spam messages or to steal confidential information. SophosLabs experts confirm that the vast majority of all spam today originates from zombie computers.

As spammers become more aggressive, collaborating with virus writers to create armies of zombie computers, legitimate organizations with hijacked computers are being identified as a source of spam. This not only harms the organization's reputation, but can also cause the company's email to be blocked by others.

Sophos ZombieAlert™ advises service subscribers when any computer on their network is found to have sent spam to Sophos's extensive global network of spam traps, and provides rapid notification to customers if their Internet Protocol (IP) addresses are listed in public Domain Name Server Block Lists (DNSBL). This information helps customers locate, disinfect, and protect these systems from future attacks.

Sophos continues to recommend that computer users ensure their anti-virus software is up-to-date, and that companies protect themselves with a consolidated solution which can defend them from the threats of viruses, spam and spyware.

About Sophos

More than 100 million users in 150 countries rely on Sophos as the best protection against complex threats and data loss. Sophos is committed to providing complete security solutions that are simple to deploy, manage, and use and that deliver the industry's lowest total cost of ownership. Sophos offers award-winning encryption, endpoint security, web, email, mobile and network security solutions backed by SophosLabs - a global network of threat intelligence centers.

Sophos is headquartered in Boston, US and Oxford, UK. More information is available at