A U.S. teenager on Monday pleaded guilty to hacking into hundreds of thousands of computers, including those belonging to the U.S. military, according to federal prosecutors.
The male teenager, identified in court papers as B.D.H. and who used the online nickname "Sobe," fraudulently installed malicious software, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
B.D.H. pleaded guilty to two juvenile delinquency charges in connection with his use of "botnets" -- a collection of compromised computers ("zombie" computers) which can be controlled remotely -- to secretly install "adware," according to the office.
Adware refers to any software package that automatically displays or downloads advertising material to a computer after the software is installed.
His sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 5 and he faces up to 15 years in prison, although juvenile defendants can only be incarcerated until they turn 21, said the office.
B.D.H., who is a well-known member of the so-called "botnet underground," admitted to conspiring with now-convicted "bot-herder" Jeanson James Ancheta, 22, who is serving a 57-month sentence in the Allenwood Federal Correctional Complex in Pennsylvania, according to the office.
Ancheta pleaded guilty in January 2006 to spreading computer viruses and received the longest-known prison sentence for anyone convicted of doing so.
Along with Ancheta, B.D.H. transmitted malicious software coding over the Internet to scan for and exploit the vulnerable computers, said the office.
The infected computers include some belonging to the Defense Information Security Agency -- an arm of the Pentagon, and some owned by Sandia National Laboratories, which provides national security technology to the U.S. government, the prosecutors said.
After turning vulnerable computers into "zombies," B.D.H. and Ancheta directed the infected computers to software servers they controlled, and adware could be secretly installed on those computers without their owners' knowledge, prosecutors said.
After the adware was installed, Ancheta demanded payment from each of the Internet advertising companies for each fraudulent installation of the adware, and paid B.D.H. a portion of each payment he received.