“Botnet” spyware creator gets four-year prison sentence


John Schiefer, the creator of the malicious "botnet" computer program, was sentenced by a federal court on Wednesday, for four years for infecting as many as 250,000 computers. Schiefer was computer security consultant from Los Angeles and employee of Santa Monica, California based search engine startup Mahalo.

27-years-old Schiefer was found guilty of using "botnet spyware" programs to infect and access thousands of computers to steal the identities of the owners of the computers. Schiefer admitted using "botnets" to turn the computers into "zombies" to thieve the identities of victims nationwide by illegally picking information from their PCs and wiretapping their communications.

Commenting on Schiefer's conduct, the U. S. District Judge A. Howard Matz said, "This kind of conduct is actually far more devastating than assaulting a prison officer." Schiefer was arrested in 2007 under a large U. S. Federal Bureau of Investigation enforcement action against botnet makers, called Operation Bot Roast II. Schiefer was previously found guilty to hacking, fraud and wiretapping charges. Schiefer created his botnet army while he was a consultant at 3G Communications, a small Los Angeles telecommunications company.

The Judge said that Schiefer was employed "to protect people from this kind of conduct, yet he engaged in this kind of conduct."

According to the U. S. Attorney's Office, Schiefer applied the malware, which he called a "spybot," to wiretap electronic communications being sent online from the zombie computers to PayPal and other Web sites. Thus, Judge Matz also ordered Schiefer to pay restitution of $19,000 to PayPal and other companies Judge Matz said, "There's a pathology that society has to deal with. There are people who want to display their prowess in Internet technology -- but they screw up big time."

Mahalo top executives stated that they didn't know about Schiefer's criminal activities when they hired him. In a blog posting, Mahalo founder Jason Calacanis said that still he stands by his employee. Calacanis said, "I consider myself a fairly decent judge of character, and after spending months with John, I'm convinced he was an angry stupid kid when he launched his botnet attack (which did .000000001% of the damage it could have). Now he's an adult who just wants to make a decent living, spend time with his significant other and breathe the clean air off the Pacific Ocean by our offices in Santa Monica. When he comes out, I hope to be able to offer him a job and that we can work together again."

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