SAN FRANCISCO -- A 20-year-old hacker admitted yesterday to surreptitiously seizing control of hundreds of thousands of Internet-connected computers, using the zombie network to serve pop-up ads and renting it to people who mounted attacks on websites and sent out spam.
Jeanson James Ancheta, of Downey, Calif., pleaded guilty in federal court in Los Angeles to four felony charges for crimes, including infecting machines at two US military sites, that earned him more than $61,000, said prosecutor James Aquilina.
Under a plea agreement, which a judge has yet to approve, Ancheta faces up to six years in prison and must pay restitution and forfeit his profits and a 1993 BMW.
Prosecutors called the case the first to target profits derived from the use of ''botnets," large numbers of computers that hackers commandeer and marshal for various nefarious deeds. Botnets are being used to overwhelm websites with data, often by extortionists. They feed off of vulnerabilities in computers that run Microsoft's Windows operating system.
A November indictment charged Ancheta with 17 counts of conspiracy, fraud, and other crimes from a 14-month hacking spree that started in June 2004 and that authorities say continued even after FBI agents raided his house the following December.