A man faces up to 10 years in prison for launching a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack against a security researcher.
Benjamin Earnest Nichols, 37, of Oklahoma City, appeared before Judge David L. Horan earlier this month and pleaded guilty to one count of knowingly causing the transmission of a program or code to a protected computer.
In addition to prison time, the man faces a maximum fine of US$250,000.
The story behind Nichols' arrest goes back to June 2009. That month, Jesse McGraw, the leader of a hacker group known as the Electronik Tribulation Army of which Nichols was a part, was arrested for gaining unauthorized access to protected computers at a medical facility. It was McGraw's intention to use those computers to launch a DDoS attack against a rival hacker group, reports The Register.
The ETA leader ultimately received nine years in prison for organizing the attack.
The FBI had spearheaded the investigation of the ETA hack, but it was assisted by McGrew Security, a computer security firm owned and operated by one "RWM."
In a post published on its blog, McGrew stated that McGraw's arrest had helped to "put other 'script-kiddie' type hackers on notice that they can be tracked down and prosecuted for their actions." The company also said it was "looking forward" to going through the court documents relating to McGraw's case again.
It was at that point that Nichols decided to take revenge against McGrew Security.
First, he helped launch a DDoS attack against the company's website back in May 2010 that is estimated to have caused between US$5,000 and US$6,500 in damages over a one-year period.
Nichols then decided to go after RWM personally.
"After interacting with RWM on blogs and in chat rooms, Nichols got angry at RWM for posting what he considered to be false and disparaging remarks on the blog at mcgrewsecurity.com," reads a statement issued by the Department of Justice. "Nichols then used various means to harass and mock RWM, including setting up a derogatory website for RWM, posting disparaging photo-shopped photographs of RWM, and ordering sex toys to be sent to RWM’s home. In addition, Nichols also created/repurposed a bot that used computer code to respond to certain keywords by transmitting random insults and profanity to RWM’s internet relay chat (IRC) channel."
The FBI is leading the investigation into Nichols' case. A sentencing date has yet to be set.