By Matt Peckham
October 1, 2014

Four men in the U.S. have been indicted by the Department of Justice for allegedly stealing unreleased software and other data from a series of gaming companies and the U.S. military.

Austin Alcala (18), Nathan Leroux (20), Sanadodeh Nesheiwat (28) and David Pokora (22) were charged with 18 counts of criminal activity, according to the federal indictment filed earlier in April and unsealed September 30. Charges included wire and mail fraud, theft of trade secrets, unauthorized computer access, copyright infringement and identity theft.

The indictment claims the four used SQL attacks and malware to hack into computer systems operated by Microsoft, Epic Games, Valve, Activision Blizzard, Zombie Studios and the U.S. Army itself. The DOJ alleges the hackers stole data ranging from authentication credentials to information about prerelease products in hopes of selling it for profit. The DOJ’s estimated value for all that data: between $100 million and $200 million.

The DOJ said the hacking ring stole information related to Microsoft’s Xbox One game console and Xbox Live online gaming network, Epic’s Gears of War 3 (a third-person tactical shooter), Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (a first-person shooter), and specialized software the U.S. Army uses to train Apache helicopter pilots. To date, the U.S. has seized $620,000 “in cash and other proceeds related to the charged conduct,” said the DOJ.

Two of the men–Nesheiwat and Pokora–have pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and copyright infringement. They’ll be sentenced on January 15 next year, and could serve up to five years prison time. On a side note, the DOJ said it believes Pokora may be the first foreigner convicted for hacking into U.S. companies to steal trade secret info. He was arrested last March while trying to enter the U.S. at Lewiston, New York.

“Today’s guilty pleas show that we will protect America’s intellectual property from hackers, whether they hack from here or from abroad,” said Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell in a statement.

But a fifth person allegedly involved in the ring–an Australian citizen not named in the indictment who reportedly tried to sell a prototype of Microsoft’s Xbox One games console on eBay in August 2012 (the system wasn’t released until November)–told the Guardian that the DOJ’s valuations are “meaningless,” that the group was simply curious and that, save for an act of theft by a single hacker that relates to the DOJ cash grab, it made nothing.

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