The four men hacked into the systems of Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT), the US Army and top computer games manufacturers such as Epic Games, Valve and Zombie Studios. They are alleged to have stolen Xbox technology, as well as pre-release copies of games including Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.
The group, aged between 18 and 28, stole intellectual property and other proprietary data pertaining to the Xbox One console and Xbox Live online gaming system, as well as Apache helicopter training software. After accessing the Zombie Studios computer system,the hackers were able to steal a training simulation program that the company had developed for the US Army.
Prosecutors have claimed that the technology was worth between $100 and $200 million, a figure that the hackers themselves have said is inflated.
Hackers: An international ring
Four men were charged in the US, named as 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.
“These were extremely sophisticated hackers … Don’t be fooled by their ages,” assistant US attorney Ed McAndrew claimed on Tuesday.
The Department of Justice added that “an Australian citizen has been charged under Australian law for his alleged role in the conspiracy”. Although no name was specified, Dylan Wheeler, 19, from Perth, was identified by Australian media. Wheeler made a name for himself as far back as 2012 when he listed an Xbox One prototype on eBay. The console was still in development by Microsoft at the time, and Wheeler had constructed the prototype at home.
Wheeler told the Guardian that the estimated value of the thefts was “meaningless”, and played down the idea of a sophisticated international hacking ring, calling it an “extremely disorganized group” borne out of “curiosity.”
Punishment for the hackers
Prosecutors have said that an informant alerted the FBI to the hacking operation in January 2011, and that the investigation enjoyed full cooperation from the gaming companies.
Pokora and Nisheiwat are looking at up to five years behind bars after pleading guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and copyright infringement.
Other charges faced by the group include conspiracies to commit wire fraud, mil fraud, identity theft and theft of trade secrets, and individual counts of aggravated identity theft, unauthorized computer access, copyright infringement and wire fraud.