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A hacker has pleaded guilty in a US district court to charges of helping to break into at least 77,000 computers through the international online hacking forum Darkode.
Eric Crocker of Binghamton, New York, was among 12 people charged in July 2015, when Darkode was dismantled by US authorities in collaboration with law enforcement organisations from 20 other countries, including the UK.
The investigation into Darkode was led by the FBI and the US Attorney's Office in Pittsburgh.
The US Department of Justice described Darkode as an online, password-protected forum where cyber criminals had to be vetted before they were allowed entry, after which they were able to buy, sell, trade, and share information, ideas, and tools to facilitate unlawful intrusions on others' computers and electronic devices.
Prosecutors said Crocker used a hacking tool called Facebook Spreader to infect Facebook users’ computers, turning them into bots which he controlled through the use of command and control servers.
Crocker and other Darkode hackers would then sell access to affected computers to spammers, earning $200 to $300 for every 10,000 active computer connections.
Crocker faces up to three years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both when he is sentenced on 23 November 2015, according to Reuters.
The remaining 11 Darkode suspects face a range of charges in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, District of Columbia and Louisiana.
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The suspects include Johan Anders Gudmunds of Sollebrunn, Sweden, who is suspected of serving as the administrator of Darkode and creating and selling malware that allowed hackers to create botnets.
Gudmunds is charged with conspiracy to commit computer fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Gudmunds also allegedly operated his own botnet, which at times consisted of more than 50,000 computers, and used his botnet to steal data from the users of those computers on approximately 200,000,000 occasions.
Although the dismantling of Darkode has been hailed as a milestone in international efforts to shut down cyber criminals' ability to buy, sell, and trade malware, botnets, and personally identifiable information, some experts say the hacking community has already begun efforts to rebuild the online hacking forum.
However, others believe the takedown will give strength to international law enforcement and at the very least spur paranoia in hacker communities.