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Takes a hacker to catch a hacker

Published: 7:10AM Tuesday July 15, 2008 Source: ONE News/Newstalk ZB

A teenage hacker could end up working on the right side of the law after a run-in with the police.
Owen Walker from Whitianga was discharged without conviction for his part in an international cyber crime ring.

Police say they could use his talents.

The hapless hacker left court lucky after the judge decided Walker's computer hacking skills were born out of curiosity, rather than criminal intent.

Inside court the 18-year-old, sandwiched between security guards, couldn't help but smile when his computer mastery took centre stage.

Crown Prosecutor Ross Douch said Walker is considered to by e-crime investigators to be the most advanced bot programming encountered.

"He has got some ability which is quite unique. He is often described, and I would agree, by people around the world as among the top people who can write this kind of software," said Martin Kleintjes, police e-crime manager.

Known by his cyber ID Akill, Walker was the mastermind of an international "botnet" group which infected tens of thousands of computers, including the collapse of a computer server at the University of Pennsylvania.

The group had been botnetting, using viruses, spam and corrupt software to ruin large computer systems. A botnet is a jargon term for a collection of software robots, or bots, which run autonomously and automatically. They run on groups of "zombie" computers.

A 20-year-old American student worked with Walker, known by his cyber ID Akill, and they called themselves the A Team, reportedly infecting 1.3 million computers and costing victims around $20 million.

His arrest followed an 18 month investigation by New Zealand, Dutch and American authorities.

The police say Walker put New Zealand on the world map for cyber crime. He is now being wooed by major computer companies overseas.

Lawyers told the court police are interested in using Walker's talent, and Justice Potter discharged him without conviction, saying he was a young man with a potentially outstanding future.  He was ordered to pay costs and reparation for damage caused to Pennsylvania University in the US.

Outside court, Walker says he understands what he did was wrong. He says the police might offer him a job but they haven't yet, adding he would be interested if they did.

His mother Shell Whyte hopes whatever he chooses to do, it's on the right side of the law.

Internet safety group NetSafe says the case is a reminder that large scale cyber-based organised crime is not something that only happens "over there".

NetSafe executive director Martin Cocker says it is important that New Zealanders take precautions against computer infiltration.

Simple ways to secure your computer:
- Install and activate a Firewall
- Install both Antivirus and Anti-spyware software (some products do both)
- Keep all software on your computer up to date, especially the operating system and security software.

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