Hacking Ring Member Pleads Guilty

Monday, April 6, 2015 @ 04:04 PM gHale

A fourth member of an international computer hacking ring pleaded guilty to conspiring to break into computer networks of technology companies to steal more than $100 million in intellectual property and other proprietary data.

Austin Alcala, 19, of McCordsville, IN, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit computer intrusions and criminal copyright infringement based on his role in the cyber theft of software and data related to the Xbox One gaming console and Xbox Live online gaming system, and popular games such as the “FIFA” online soccer series; “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3;” and “Gears of War 3.” A sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge Gregory M. Sleet of the District of Delaware will be July 29.

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According to the statement of facts filed in connection with his guilty plea, Alcala was part of the hacking conspiracy between the spring of 2012 and April 2014, according to a release from Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Charles M. Oberly III of the District of Delaware and Special Agent in Charge Stephen E. Vogt of the FBI’s Baltimore Division.

During that period, hacking group members located in the United States and abroad gained unauthorized access to computer networks of various companies, including Microsoft Corporation, Epic Games Inc., Valve Corporation and Zombie Studios. The conspirators accessed and stole unreleased software, software source code, trade secrets, copyrighted and pre-release works and other confidential and proprietary information. Members of the conspiracy also stole financial and other sensitive information relating to the companies — but not their customers — and certain employees of such companies.

Specifically, the data theft targeted software development networks containing source code, technical specifications and related information for Microsoft’s then-unreleased Xbox One gaming console, as well as intellectual property and proprietary data related to Xbox Live and games developed for that online gaming system.

Alcala admitted in court he personally was a part of hacking into and stealing log-in credentials and intellectual property from victim companies including Microsoft and Zombie Studios. Alcala further admitted on one occasion he transmitted to co-conspirators a database file containing approximately 11,266 log-in credentials stolen from a victim company.

The value of the intellectual property and other data stolen by the hacking ring, as well as the costs associated with the victims’ responses to the conduct, ranges between $100 million and $200 million. To date, the United States seized over $620,000 in cash and other proceeds related to the charged conduct.

Sanadodeh Nesheiwat, 28, of Washington, NJ, and David Pokora, 22, of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, previously pleaded guilty to the same conspiracy charge on Sept. 30 last year. They remain in custody pending their sentencing hearings, which scheduled for later this month. Nathan Leroux, 20, of Bowie, MD, pleaded guilty to the same conspiracy charge on Jan. 20, 2015, and remains in custody pending his sentencing hearing scheduled for May.

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