LOS ANGELES – The Justice Department today announced the seizure of 15 internet domains associated with DDoS-for-hire services, as well as criminal charges against three defendants who facilitated the computer attack platforms.
The sites, which offered what are often called “booter” or “stresser” services, allowed paying users to launch powerful distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attacks that flood targeted computers with information and prevent them from being able to access the internet. Booter services such as those named in this action allegedly cause attacks on a wide array of victims in the United States and abroad, including financial institutions, universities, internet service providers, government systems, and various gaming platforms.
The action against the DDoS services comes the week before the Christmas holiday, a period historically plagued by prolific DDoS attacks in the gaming world.
Pursuant to seizure warrants issued by a federal judge in Los Angeles, the FBI on Wednesday seized the domains of 15 booter services, which represent some of the world’s leading DDoS-for-hire services. Among these sites were critical-boot.com, ragebooter.com, downthem.org, and quantumstress.net.
According to the affidavit in support of the warrant authorizing the seizure of the 15 websites, these services offered easy access to attack infrastructure, payment options that included Bitcoin, and were relatively low cost. Each of the services was tested by the FBI, which verified those DDoS attack services offered through each of the seized websites. While testing the various services, the FBI determined that these types of services can and have caused disruptions of networks at all levels.
In conjunction with the seizure warrants, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles on Wednesday filed a criminal complaint that charges Matthew Gatrel, 30, of St. Charles, Illinois, and Juan Martinez, 25, of Pasadena, California, with conspiring to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act through the operation of services known as Downthem and Ampnode. According to affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, Downthem offered DDoS services directly to users who wished to attack other internet users, and Ampnode offered resources designed to facilitate the creation of standalone DDoS services by customers. Between October 2014 and November 2018, Downthem’s database showed over 2000 customer subscriptions, and had been used to conduct, or attempt to conduct, over 200,000 DDoS attacks.
“The attack-for-hire websites targeted in this investigation offered customers the ability to disrupt computer networks on a massive scale, undermining the internet infrastructure on which we all rely,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “While this week’s crackdown will have a significant impact on this burgeoning criminal industry, there are other sites offering these services – and we will continue our efforts to rid the internet of these websites. We are committed to seeing the internet remain a forum for the free and unfettered exchange of information.”
In a case related to Ampnode, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska last week charged David Bukoski, 23, of Hanover Township, Pennsylvania, with aiding and abetting computer intrusions. The charging documents allege that Bukoski operated Quantum Stresser, one of the longest-running DDoS services in operation. As of late last month, Quantum had over 80,000 customer subscriptions dating back to its launch in 2012. In 2018 alone, Quantum was used to launch over 50,000 actual or attempted DDoS attacks targeting victims worldwide, including victims in Alaska and California.
“DDoS for hire services such as these pose a significant national threat,” said Bryan Schroder, the United States Attorney for the District of Alaska. “Coordinated investigations and prosecutions such as these demonstrate the importance of cross-District collaboration and coordination with public sector partners.”
“DDoS attacks are serious crimes that can cause real harm, as shown by the wide range of sectors allegedly victimized in this case,” said Assistant Attorney General Bryan A. Benczkowski, of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The operators and the customers of DDoS-for-hire services should be on notice that the Department of Justice will aggressively prosecute those who perpetrate malicious cyber attacks.”
“Whether you launch the DDoS attack or hire a DDoS service to do it for you, the FBI considers it criminal activity,” said FBI Assistant Director Matthew Gorham. “Working with our industry and law enforcement partners, the FBI will identify and potentially prosecute you for this activity. We will use every tool at our disposal to combat all forms of cybercrime including DDoS activity. We encourage all DDoS victims to contact your local FBI field office or file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.”
Over the past five years, booter and stresser services have grown as an increasingly prevalent class of DDoS attack tools. These types of DDoS attacks are so named because they result in the “booting” or dropping of the victim-targeted website from the internet. Booter-based DDoS attack tools offer a low barrier to entry for users looking to engage in cyber criminal activity, representing an effective advance in internet attack technology.
The charges in the indictment and criminal complaint are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The criminal case against Gatrel and Martinez is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Cameron Schroeder of the Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section in Los Angeles.
Assistant United States Attorney Jonathan Galatzan of the Asset Forfeiture Section is handling the seizure of the domains.
The case against Bukoski is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Alexander of the District of Alaska and Trial Attorney C. Alden Pelker of the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. CCIPS and the two Districts are also coordinating cryptocurrency seizures.
The cases announced today are being investigated by the FBI’s Anchorage Field Office and the FBI’s Cyber Initiative and Resource Fusion Unit (CIRFU). Additional assistance was provided by the FBI’s Chicago, Los Angeles, Memphis, and Philadelphia Field Offices and the Scranton, Pennsylvania Resident Agency; the Major Cyber Crimes Unit, Global Operations and Targeting Unit, and Money Laundering Intelligence Unit of FBI Headquarters; Defense Criminal Investigative Service; and the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Middle District of Pennsylvania, Western District of Tennessee, and the Northern District of Illinois. The United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency, the Dutch National Police – National High Tech Crime Unit, and the National Cyber-Forensics & Training Alliance made invaluable contributions. Akamai, Bell Aliant, Cloudflare, Entertainment Software Association, Flashpoint, Google, Oath, Inc., Oracle, Palo Alto Networks Unit 42, PayPal, Riot Games, ShadowDragon, SpyCloud, University of Cambridge, and other valued private sector partners provided additional assistance.