Teen escapes botnet conviction but might help police

Teen avoids jail but might turn snitch. (IMG:J.Anderson Photo: Alan Gibson)

Owen Thor Walker, the teen who pleaded guilty earlier this year to six charges of accessing computers for dishonest purposes and without authorization, damaging computer systems, and possession of software for the purposes of committing a computer crime, has avoided going straight to jail. His sentence amounted to a stiff fine, and he may have to help police catch other botnet owners.

In November 2007, Walker, known at that time as “AKILL” in some circles, was arrested on charges stemming from his criminal use of a botnet. He was also accused of playing a key role in a gang that infected 1.3 million computers around the world. The gang allegedly installed revenue-generating Adware and stole information worth about $20 million USD. According to the court, for his efforts in taking that money, Walker made about $30,000 USD.

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 almost $11,000 USD in fines, including over $7,000 USD to the University of Pennsylvania, which suffered network damage as a result of the gang's activities. In addition, Walker had his computers seized. In the scale of things, the seized property is perhaps the least of his worries.

However, the catch that he might have to help police with the capture of fellow criminals is nothing new in these types of settlements.

"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," commented 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."

More information on unfolding events can be found here.

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