Washington, DC – An Indian American in the District of New Jersey on Wednesday (Dec. 13) pleaded guilty to launching a cyber attack on the Rutgers University computer network, in addition to a joint plea with two others for creating and operating two botnets, which targeted “Internet of Things” (IoT) devices.
Paras Jha, 21, hailing from Fanwood, New Jersey joined two others Josiah White, 20, from Washington, Pennsylvania and Dalton Norman, 21, from Metairie, Louisiana in pleading guilty for creating “Mirai” and “Clickfraud” botnets, infecting hundreds of thousands of IoT devices with malicious software, the Department of Justice announced this week.
“Paras Jha has admitted his responsibility for multiple hacks of the Rutgers University computer system,” said Acting US Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick of the District of New Jersey, adding, “These computer attacks shut down the server used for all communications among faculty, staff and students, including assignment of course work to students, and students’ submission of their work to professors to be graded.”
“The defendant’s (Jha) actions effectively paralyzed the system for days at a time and maliciously disrupted the educational process for tens of thousands of Rutgers’ students. Today, the defendant (Jha) has admitted his role in this criminal offense and will face the legal consequences for it,” concluded Fitzpatrick.
Each of the three were charged with conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act in operating the Mirai Botnet. According to the documents, “In the summer and fall of 2016, White, Jha, and Norman created a powerful botnet – a collection of computers infected with malicious software and controlled as a group without the knowledge or permission of the computers’ owners.”
“The Mirai and Clickfraud botnet schemes are powerful reminders that as we continue on a path of a more interconnected world, we must guard against the threats posed by cybercriminals that can quickly weaponize technological developments to cause vast and varied types of harm,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The Criminal Division will remain constantly vigilant in combating these sophisticated schemes, prosecuting cybercriminals, and protecting the American people,” announced Cronan.
Details of Crimes
The allegations stated that the defendants used the botnet to conduct a number of powerful distributed denial-of-service, or “DDOS” attacks, which occurred when multiple computers, acting in unison, flood the Internet connection of a targeted computer or computers.
The defendants’ involvement with the original Mirai variant, however came to an end in the fall of 2016, when Jha posted the source code for Mirai on a criminal forum. Since then, other criminal actors have used Mirai variants in a variety of other attacks, noted the documents.
On Dec. 8, Paras Jha and Dalton Norman also pleaded guilty to criminal Informations in the District of Alaska charging each with conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act. From December 2016 to February 2017, the defendants successfully infected over 100,000 primarily US-based computing devices, such as home Internet routers, with malicious software. That malware caused the hijacked home Internet routers and other devices to form a powerful botnet. The victim devices were used primarily in advertising fraud, including “clickfraud,” a type of Internet-based scheme that makes it appear that a real user has “clicked” on an advertisement for the purpose of artificially generating revenue.
On Dec. 13, Paras Jha pleaded guilty in the District of New Jersey to violating the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act. Between November 2014 to September 2016, Jha executed a series of attacks on the networks of Rutgers University. Jha’s attacks effectively shut down Rutgers University’s central authentication server, which maintained, among other things, the gateway portal through which staff, faculty, and students delivered assignments and assessments. At times, Jha succeeded in taking the portal offline for multi-day periods, harming Rutgers University, its faculty, and its students.
“These cases illustrate how the FBI works tirelessly against the actions of criminals who use malicious code to cause widespread damage and disruptions to the general population,” said Assistant Director Scott Smith of the FBI Cyber Division. “The FBI is dedicated to working with its domestic and international partners to aggressively pursue these individuals and bring justice to the victims,” Smith added.
Summing up, US Attorney Bryan D. Schroder of the District of Alaska said, “Our world has become increasingly digital, and increasingly complex. Cybercriminals are not concerned with borders between states or nations, but should be on notice that they will be held accountable in Alaska when they victimize Alaskans in order to perpetrate criminal schemes.”
The US Attorney’s Office, along with our partners at the FBI and Department of Justice‘s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS), are committed to finding these criminals, interrupting their networks, and holding them accountable,” Schroder noted.