A Washington-state man pleaded guilty to one felony count of computer fraud relating to charges he spread malware to users of an internet relay chat (IRC) channel. He faces up five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced in early May.
Using the user ID Fyle, Richard C. Honour infected IRC users with a program known as WindowsMedia.exe, according to a plea agreement on file with the federal court in St Louis, Missouri, where servers for one of the IRC networks are located. The program installed a back door that gave the hacker, now 31-years-old, access to victims' computers.
Honour admitted he caused users of the DarkMyst IRC group to receive private messages inviting them to view a video on a website. Users who followed the link (we presume those running unpatched versions of Windows) were infected. Among other things, the malware caused victims to spam other IRC users in an attempt to virally spread itself. An FBI raid on Honour's home led to the discovery of documents showing he had siphoned information off victims' computers.
A public defender didn't return calls seeking comment.
US prosecutors have been trying to publicly turn up the heat on cyber miscreants as the online crime wave reaches epidemic levels and they have to compete for limited resources with colleagues combating terrorism and white collar crime.
"Computer viruses have the potential to cause an incredible amount of damage to the nation's economy," United States Attorney Catherine L. Hanaway said in a statement. "This office will pursue these cases aggressively. Tracking a computer crime can be tedious and difficult. This case is an example of excellent investigative work by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who responded to complaints from the Internet community and followed every lead until the case was resolve."
Last year, federal prosecutors celebrated the convictions of at least two high-profile cases. One involved a 21-year-old man from Southern California who received almost five years for renting out his botnet by the hour. Another involved a guilty plea by a 21-year-old who pleaded guilty to botnet crimes that disrupted thousands of computers, including some at a Seattle hospital. ®