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Teenage bot herder pleads guilty in New Zealand

Considering Owen Thor Walker's age and cooperation with authorities the judge is expected to recommend home detention or community service instead of jail time.

Owen Thor Walker, an 18-year-old bot herder from Whitianga, New Zealand, plead guilty on Monday to six charges resulting from a botched botnet upgrade that led to a 2007 denial-of-service attack on the University of Pennsylvania.

Walker plead guilty to two charges of accessing a computer for dishonest purposes; two charges of accessing computer systems without authorization; one of damaging or interfering with computer systems; and one of possessing software for committing a crime. He could face five years in jail. However, according to reports from The New Zealand Herald, Judge Arthur Tompkins is considering Walker's age and cooperation with authorities and could recommend home detention or community service instead. Sentencing will take place May 28.

Walker, who uses the online name "AKill," was arrested last November as part of the FBI's Operation Botroast II, along with Ryan Brett Goldstein, 21, of Ambler, Penn. Walker and Goldstein allegedly caused a distributed denial-of service attack on the University of Pennsylvania this past summer that cost the school nearly $13,000 to mitigate. Apparently the DoS attack was unintentional.

According to various reports, Walker said he was attempting to upgrade his botnet code when a glitch took down his network. A botnet consists of thousands of infected computers worldwide that can spew spam, assist in a denial-of-service attack on a target, or spread new versions of the originating worm. From a central point, called a command and control center, a bot herder can send new code to those infected computers.

After the FBI identified AKill as Walker, it worked with New Zealand authorities who uncovered a series of deposits in the Netherlands. Working with Dutch authorities, investigators pieced together that Walker's botnet had earned an estimated $32,000 from adware vendors. Walker used the money to invest in his parent's taxi cab company, and computer equipment.

Home-schooled, Walker, who is also known online as "Snow Whyte" and "Snow Walker," taught himself computer programming and encryption, and met up with other malware writers online. He may have first contacted Goldstein in an online chat room.