Justice Department Announces Charges And Guilty Pleas In Three Computer Crime Cases Involving Significant Cyber Attacks
Defendants Responsible for Rutgers University Hack, Creating Mirai and clickfraud Botnets, Infecting Hundreds of Thousands of Devices with Malicious Software
TRENTON, N.J. – The Justice Department announced today guilty pleas in three cybercrime cases. In the District of New Jersey, one defendant also pleaded guilty to launching a cyber attack on the Rutgers University computer network, and in the District of Alaska, that defendant and two others pleaded guilty to creating and operating two botnets, which targeted “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices.
Acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick of the District of New Jersey; Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher of the FBI’s Newark Division; U.S. Attorney Bryan D. Schroder of the District of Alaska; and Special Agent in Charge Marlin L. Ritzman of the FBI’s Anchorage Division and made the announcement.
Paras Jha, 21, of Fanwood, New Jersey, pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp in Trenton federal court in the District of New Jersey to violating the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act. Between November 2014 and September 2016, Jha executed a series of attacks on the networks of Rutgers University. Jha’s attacks effectively shut down Rutgers University’s central authentication server, which maintained, among other things, the gateway portal through which staff, faculty, and students delivered assignments and assessments. At times, Jha succeeded in taking the portal offline for multiple consecutive periods, causing damage to Rutgers University, its faculty, and its students. The count to which Jha pleaded guilty is punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross amount of any pecuniary gain or loss derived from the offense, whichever is greater. Sentencing is scheduled for March 13, 2018.
On Dec. 8, 2017, Jha, Josiah White, 20, of Washington, Pennsylvania, and Dalton Norman, 21, of Metairie, Louisiana, pleaded guilty to criminal informations in the District of Alaska charging them each with conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act in operating the Mirai Botnet. In the summer and fall of 2016, White, Jha, and Norman created a powerful botnet – a collection of computers infected with malicious software and controlled as a group without the knowledge or permission of the computers’ owners. The Mirai Botnet, targeted IoT devices – non-traditional computing devices that have been connected to the Internet, including wireless cameras, routers, and digital video recorders. The defendants attempted to discover both known and previously undisclosed vulnerabilities that allowed them to surreptitiously attain administrative or high-level access to victim devices for the purpose of forcing the devices to participate in the Mirai Botnet. At its peak, Mirai consisted of hundreds of thousands of compromised devices. The defendants used the botnet to conduct a number of powerful “distributed denial of service” (DDOS) attacks, which occur when multiple computers acting in unison flood the Internet connection of a targeted computer or computers. The defendants’ involvement with the original Mirai variant ended in the fall of 2016, when Jha posted the source code for Mirai on a criminal forum. Since then, other criminal actors have used Mirai variants in a variety of other attacks.
Jha and Norman also pleaded guilty to criminal informations in the District of Alaska charging each with conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act. From December 2016 to February 2017, the defendants successfully infected more than 100,000 primarily U.S.-based Internet-connected computing devices, such as home Internet routers, with malicious software. That malware caused the hijacked home Internet routers and other devices to form a powerful botnet. The defendants then used the compromised devices as a network of proxies through which they routed Internet traffic. The victim devices were used primarily in advertising fraud, including “clickfraud,” a type of Internet-based scheme that utilizes “clicks,” or the accessing of URLs and similar web content, for the purpose of artificially generating revenue.
“Paras Jha has admitted his responsibility for multiple hacks of the Rutgers University computer system,” Acting U.S. Attorney Fitzpatrick said. “These computer attacks shut down the server used for all communications among faculty, staff and students, including assignment of course work to students, and students’ submission of their work to professors to be graded. The defendant’s actions effectively paralyzed the system for days at a time and maliciously disrupted the educational process for tens of thousands of Rutgers’ students. Today, the defendant has admitted his role in this criminal offense and will face the legal consequences for it.”
“Today's guilty plea is a testament to the countless hours of hard work and dedication by law enforcement in the fight against cyber criminals,” FBI Newark Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher said. “Cybercrime knows no boundaries. Dismantling these operations is possible only by working closely with our partners.”
“The Mirai and Clickfraud botnet schemes are powerful reminders that as we continue on a path of a more interconnected world, we must guard against the threats posed by cybercriminals that can quickly weaponize technological developments to cause vast and varied types of harm,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Cronan said. “The Criminal Division will remain constantly vigilant in combating these sophisticated schemes, prosecuting cybercriminals, and protecting the American people.”
For additional information on cybersecurity best practices for IoT devices, please visit: https://www.justice.gov/criminal-ccips/page/file/984001/download .
All three cases were investigated by the FBI. The Rutgers University case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Shana Chen of the District of New Jersey. The Mirai Botnet and Clickfraud Botnet cases are 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 of the Criminal Division. Additional assistance was provided by the FBI Newark Cyber Task Force, Rutgers University Police Department, N.J. State Police, the Federal Protective Service, FBI’s New Orleans and Pittsburgh Field Offices, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana, the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency, the French General Directorate for Internal Security, the National Cyber-Forensics & Training Alliance, Palo Alto Networks Unit 42, Google, Cloudflare, Coinbase, Flashpoint, Yahoo and Akamai.
Defense counsel: Robert Stahl Esq., Westfield, New Jersey