All hell broke loose on Tuesday, September 30, 2014 when the U.S. Department Of Justice charged four hackers with breaking into the computer systems of Microsoft, the US Army and leading games manufacturers. All part of an alleged international hacking ring accused of stealing more than $200m in intellectual property. Clearly all young, aged between 18 and 28, they are accused of stealing Xbox technology, software, manuals for Apache helicopter pilot training and pre-release copies of games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, according to the Business of Federal Technology.
The four charged in the US were named as Austin Alcala, 18, of McCordsville, Indiana; Nathan Leroux, 20, of Bowie, Maryland; Sanadodeh Nesheiwat, 28, of Washington, New Jersey; and David Pokora, 22, of Mississauga, Ontario in Canada. Pokora, who McAndrew said was looked up to by other group members as its leader, was arrested at a border crossing in Lewiston, New York, after being lured away from home by the other three, according to Reuter’s. A fifth person, identified by Australian media earlier this year as Dylan Wheeler, 19, of Perth in Western Australia also faces charges.
Pokora and Nesheiwat both pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and copyright infringement. Having cooperated, they face only up to five years in prison when they are sentenced in January 2015. Yet for Alcala and LeRoux there are joint charges of conspiracy to commit computer fraud, copyright infringement, wire fraud, mail fraud, identity theft and theft of trade secrets charges. Both also face individual counts of aggravated identity theft, unauthorized computer access, copyright infringement and wire fraud. Theoretically, Alcala and LeRoux could both receive life sentences.
Dylan Wheeler is, even according to his own description, a hacker. Having breached both Microsoft‘s and Sony’s game development networks, he supposedly boasted to a Computer World reporter that he had placed ads on eBay, asking for $500,000 from a Microsoft representative who met him at a Perth mall. This representative, Miles Hawkes, took Wheeler to dinner a number of times to pick his brains about the laxity of the company’s security system.
A hero on Twitter to some, Dylan Wheeler‘s brazen pride in his burglary prowess and attempts at blackmail have drawn even more attention since Perth police raided his family’s home on Feb. 19, and confiscated his credit cards, a MacBook Pro, his mobile phone and, $10,000 worth of technology. Interrogated, yet not arrested, Wheeler has not been charged with any crime. Seemingly far ahead of the game, at least in the eyes of those investigating him, Wheeler will surely be seen as a possible asset in the world of Aussie spy craft. Indeed, if what he says is true, the young man managed to co-opt Microsoft into an extremely compromising situation where they were clearly susceptible to blackmail.
Consequently, Wheeler may receive the benefit of the doubt in his technologically less sophisticated country than has Gary McKinnon, the U.K. hacker who breached NASA and U.S. military systems. Or, worse, Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide on January 10, 2014, while facing hacking charges. Now an Internet folk hero, Swartz wanted to make ‘secret’ Web files free to the public. Indicted on federal charges of gaining illegal access to JSTOR, a subscription-only service for distributing scientific and literary journals, and downloading millions of articles and documents, Swartz hung himself rather than face potential penalties of up to 35 years in prison and $1 million in fines. Plenty of absurdity and tragedy to go around throughout.