NEWS

New Zealand Telecoms Hire Teenage Hacker to Bolster IT Security

By Matthew Harwood

New Zealand's second largest telecommunications company has hired a hacking wunderkind, responsible for writing a multimillion dollar-generating botnet infiltration program, to help senior executives understand cybersecurity issues.

[Owen Thor] Walker has delivered a series of seminars for TelstraClear, advised senior security and management staff at the company and has taken part in an advertising campaign, [Chris] Mirams [Telstra spokesman] said.

"It was really just ... to let them know the type of cyber threats that are out there, developing," Mr Mirams said.

Walker told delegates what cyber criminals are trying to achieve and how to defend their networks against such threats, he said.

Last July, Walker stood trial for helping a criminal network organize botnet attacks that the FBI estimates struck 1.3 million computers and caused over $20 million in damages, either by skimming bank accounts or damaging computer systems. The 18-year-old pleaded guilty, reports the Telegraph.

According to The New Zealand Herald, Walker is a genius:

[At 16] Walker created his own bot code, considered by investigators to be among the most advanced bot programming encountered.

So skilled was Walker, he developed a bot code that could protect itself from discovery. It spread automatically and could identify and destroy rival bot codes. The code automatically disabled any anti-virus software on an infected computer, but the operator believed its anti-virus software was still working. Another bot code allowed Walker to operate through other computers, making it harder for his activity to be traced.

All charges against the teenager were dropped after Walker paid a fine and forfeited his ill-gotten gains from his criminal employers. Although Walker knew his program was capable of stealing millions, the Herald reported, he drew the line at what he believed was criminal and made approximately $36,000 from adware companies that paid him to install adware covertly on computers. He emerged out of his legal troubles without a criminal record.

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