Teen hackers charged with stealing $100 million in Army, Microsoft tech

Despite their ages, the crimes are serious: breaking into both the US Army and Microsoft's servers to steal everything from unreleased games to military software.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer
credit cnet
Credit: CNET

Four teenage hackers have been charged with breaking into the systems of the US Army and Microsoft in order to steal over $100 million in intellectual property.

The US Department of Justice said on Tuesday that the four men, between the ages of 18 and 28, managed to break into the servers of prominent technology companies and the US Army. The alleged theft includes software and data related to Microsoft's Xbox One gaming console and Xbox Live online gaming system, as well as pre-release game copies including 'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3' and 'Gears of War 3.' However, the alleged theft goes further -- as the hacking ring also allegedly stole Apache military software used to train helicopter pilots.

According to the prosecution, from January 2011 to March 2014, the four hackers broke into the networks of Microsoft, Epic Games, Valve, Zombie Studios and the US Army. In order to infiltrate these systems, the DoJ alleges that SQL injections and the use of stolen company employee usernames and passwords were used, as well as those gained from software development partners.

Once inside, the hackers allegedly accessed and stole unreleased software, source codes, copyrighted and pre-release games and other intellectual property. In addition, the teenagers allegedly stole financial and other sensitive information relating to the companies -- but not their customers. The DoJ claims that the value of the intellectual property stolen amounts to between $100 million and $200 million.

This case is being investigated by the FBI, and $620,000 has been seized in proceeds "related to the charged conduct."

Nathan Leroux, 20, of Bowie, Maryland; Sanadodeh Nesheiwat, 28, of Washington, New Jersey; David Pokora, 22, of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada; and Austin Alcala, 18, of McCordsville, Indiana, were charged on 18 counts by a federal grand jury in the District of Delaware on April 23, 2014.

The charges include conspiracies to commit computer fraud, copyright infringement, wire fraud, mail fraud, identity theft and theft of trade secrets, as well as individual counts of aggravated identity theft, unauthorized computer access, copyright infringement and wire fraud.

In an indictment dating from April, the DoJ said two out of the four -- all part of a ring called "Xbox Underground" -- have already pleaded guilty.

Pokora and Nesheiwat have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit computer fraud and copyright infringement. They face up to five years in prison, and face sentencing in January.

In addition to those charged in the US, an Australian man with links to the conspiracy has also been charged.

US Attorney Charles M. Oberly III of the District of Delaware said:

"Electronic breaking and entering of computer networks and the digital looting of identities and intellectual property have become much too common. These are not harmless crimes, and those who commit them should not believe they are safely beyond our reach."

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