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Two hackers have pleaded guilty to federal cyber-crime charges for launching a cyberattack last year that knocked large parts of the internet offline.
Paras Jha and Josiah White were indicted by an Alaska court in early December, according to documents unsealed Wednesday.
Prosecutors accused the hackers of writing and using the Mirai botnet to hijack vulnerable internet-connected devices to launch powerful distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.
According to Jha’s plea agreement, the botnet ensnared more than 300,000 vulnerable devices.
The filing says that Jha “conspired to conduct DDoS attacks against websites and web hosting companies located in the United States and abroad,” and “demanded payment in exchange for halting the attack.”
DDoS attacks are a common way to disrupt online services, and often require little or no technical knowledge. The operator uses ensnared, vulnerable devices to flood a domain or server with bandwidth, which in turn can prevent legitimate access from accessing sites and services.
Jha admitted to releasing the code publicly to create “plausible deniability” if code was found on his computers. The publishing of that code effectively made the botnet open source, so that anyone can use the botnet to launch attacks.
White pleaded guilty to creating the Mirai botnet’s scanner, used to seek out and hijack vulnerable internet-connected devices.
The botnet was used to target servers of Dyn, an internet infrastructure company, in October last year. The attack, said to be upwards of 1.1Tbps in size, led to a massive disruption to sites and services, including Paypal, Reddit, and Twitter.
A spokesperson for the Justice Dept. did not immediately have comment.
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