A University of Pennsylvania student has escaped charges related to possessing child pornography, but been sentenced to three months in prison for his part in a worldwide botnet of compromised computers.
22-year-old Ryan Goldstein pleaded guilty to his involvement in the hacking ring and assisted the FBI in its investigations, but then blotted his copybook rather by engaging in “unspecified mischief” with the agency’s computers.
According to the FBI, Goldstein worked with Owen Thor Walker, a New Zealand teenager known by the handle “AKILL”, who comandeered thousands of computers.
In July Sophos reported on how Walker had been fined $11,000 – including over $7,000 to the University of Pennsylvania who suffered damage to their computer network – but managed to escape jail because of he assisted police in their investigation.
Walker and Goldstein’s gang were said to have infected 1.3 million computers around the world, installing revenue-generating adware and stealing information worth US $20 million.
The several thousand illegal images of child abuse are not believed to be related to Goldstein’s hacking activities. However, despite their discovery on Goldstein’s computer, prosecutors made the decision not to charge the student in relation to the under-age images porn because he assisted the authorities investigating the hacking ring.
Assistant US Attorney Michael Levy said the decision not to charge Goldstein with child porn was appropriate given his extensive co-operation. Some might argue that being interested in illegal content like that and creating a demand for children to be abused is more serious than hacking computers – but apparently that wasn’t the opinon of the authorities so it was swept under the carpet.