3 hackers get light sentences after working with the FBI

Three young computer hackers whose "botnet" known as Mirai virtually paralyzed chunks of the internet two years ago have received light sentences after helping the FBI with cybercrime and cybersecurity.

Paras Jha, 22, of Fanwood, New Jersey; Josiah White, 21, of Washington, Pennsylvania; and Dalton Norman, 22, of Metairie, Louisiana, were sentenced Tuesday to five years of probation and 62½ workweeks of community service in U.S. District Court in Anchorage.

The three men, who pleaded guilty to computer fraud charges in December, also were ordered to pay $127,000 in restitution and gave up what authorities said was a significant amount of cryptocurrency.

Chief U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess handed down the sentences after the men cooperated extensively with the FBI on cybercrime investigations and broader defensive efforts, according to a statement from the U.S. attorney's office in Alaska. Terms of their sentences include the expectation they will keep helping the FBI.

"Cybercrime is a worldwide epidemic that reaches many Alaskans," Bryan Schroder, the U.S. attorney for Alaska, said in the release. "The perpetrators count on being technologically one step ahead of law enforcement officials.

"The plea agreement with the young offenders in this case was a unique opportunity for law enforcement officers and will give FBI investigators the knowledge and tools they need to stay ahead of cybercriminals around the world," he said.

The men created a collection of hundreds of thousands of computers and internet-connected devices — including routers, webcams and other devices — infected with malware that they controlled, according to court documents.

A broad "denial of service" attack waged using the Mirai botnet knocked platforms such as Twitter and Netflix offline in October 2016. Prosecutors said they don't believe the three men were responsible for that attack because Jha had already posted the code for Mirai to online criminal forums.

Jha and Norman also pleaded guilty to a separate conspiracy charge for using another powerful botnet for a "clickfraud" scheme, used to artificially generate advertising revenue by making it appear that a real user clicked on an online ad.

The investigation originated in Anchorage after some internet-connected devices in Alaska were affected by the Mirai malware.

Bill Walton, a special agent who oversees the Anchorage FBI's Cyber Crime unit, said in December that the botnet's name is a reference to a Japanese anime called Mirai Nikki, which loosely translated into English means "future diary." Walton said the three men were fans of that anime.