The FBI has announced action against computer hackers in their ongoing investigation of individuals who install malicious code and software on the Internet known as "botnets."
The FBI, working with the U.S. Secret Service and New Zealand authorities, searched the New Zealand residence of an individual who uses the Internet identification "AKILL" and who investigators suspect is the leader of an international cybercrime ring responsible for infecting more than 1 million computers.
The suspect has been interviewed by authorities in New Zealand and investigators also seized computers from his home.
The law enforcement action was part of a larger investigation of hackers who set botnets, which are responsible for taking over large numbers of computers — sometimes tens of thousands in one network — which can then be used in identity theft rings.
The botnets can launch "denial of service" attacks, crashing networks and systems and even setting annoying spam campaigns. The FBI has executed 13 search warrants in the United States and overseas and has uncovered more than $20 million in economic losses.
Earlier this month, a federal grand jury in Philadelphia indicted Ryan Goldstein for allegedly attacking the University of Pennsylvania's computer system in a denial of service attack.
According to an FBI official, they were able to neutralize the botnet in its early stages and identify other individuals who are currently being sought.
In Los Angeles on Nov. 8, John Schiefer pleaded guilty to using botnets to intercept computer user names and passwords and hacking into bank accounts and Paypal accounts. Schiefer then sold the data to others. The prosecution against Schiefer was the first botnet prosecution.
In June, the FBI launched "Operation Bot Roast" to counter the growing threat and the recent action in New Zealand and the Philadelphia case are part of Bot Roast II.
Some botnets can turn computers into "zombies" where users are unaware that their computer has been taken over.
In a statement, FBI director Robert Mueller said, "Botnets are the weapon of choice of cybercriminals. They seek to conceal their criminal activities by using third-party computers as vehicles for their crimes. In Bot Roast II, we see the diverse and complex nature of crimes that are being committed through the use of botnets."