The world has been reminded that the era of the teen hacker is far from dead, with the arrest of a fresh-faced 18 year-old for allegedly masterminding a botnetting operation.
The New-Zealand-based accused, Owen Thorn Walker, is said to have been the leader of a group of programmers that set up a botnet that infected 1.3 million computers with the purpose of stealing credit cards and manipulating stock trades.
The FBI has put the losses caused by the Netherlands-sited botnet at $20 million, most of it siphoned from the bank accounts of victims across the globe. Walker, who operated under the handle ‘AKILL’, now faces up to 10 years in jail if found guilty under New Zealand law.
Conventional wisdom has it that the era of hackers barely old enough to shave has passed into history and that cyber-crime is now controlled by organised crime, motivated solely by money. This fails to notice that young, talented hackers can be just as likely to be part of such crime groups as their older peers.
And yet only days ago another teen hacker in the US pleaded guilty to using a similar botnet system to install adware on hundreds of thousands of PCs. The police referred to him as ‘B.D.H’, suggesting that the individual could be even younger than Walker, possibly below the age at which he could be tried under adult criminal law.
Authorities around the world seem to be turning their legal attention to the botnet problem at last, which has grown into the largest Internet security issue, beating even spam for malevolence.
"We worked closely with US and Dutch authorities on this investigation. This arrest is significant not just to New Zealand but the international community as well," said Detective Inspector Peter Devoy of the New Zealand police, underlining the degree of co-operation now being employed to fight bring individuals to book.
"Very few people who carry out this sort of offending are ever prosecuted, so the resolution of this case has huge international implications," he added.
In addition to Walker, 13 other arrest warrants have been issued relating to the case in unspecified parts of the world.