By PAUL EASTON and MICHAEL FIELD
AN FBI agent working in Hamilton helped police hunt down an 18-year-old suspected of heading a global cyber gang that attacked more than one million computers.
The youth, who used the name Akill, was questioned by Hamilton police after an international sting involving the American FBI, Secret Service and New Zealand police.
Akill is alleged to be the ringleader of a sophisticated botnet gang called the A-Team, comprising people from the United States and overseas.
"Botnet" is jargon for a collection of computers infected to act as robots or "bots" and used to commit crimes.
Under the FBI's operation Bot Roast II, eight people have been arrested for botnet activity.
Investigators suspect the gang was responsible for more than $20US million ($26NZ million) in costs after attacking 1.3 million computers worldwide.
Waikato crime services manager Detective Inspector Peter Devoy said the Hamilton youth cooperated with police. He could not say if the youth would be arrested, but no other New Zealanders were suspected of involvement.
Akill is suspected of designing a virus undetectable to anti-virus software.
"This program was viewed by the FBI as being very sophisticated malware."
An FBI agent was in New Zealand helping with the investigation, Mr Devoy said.
"It's a new area of crime and we are learning as we go, so he's been very useful."
Police searched a Waikato house, seizing computer equipment. They also searched two properties in Northland and Canterbury where people were thought to be victims of cyber attacks.
Akill and a US cohort were suspected of a February 2006 attack on Philadelphia University that denied computer access to 4000 people.
New Zealand police electronic crime laboratory manager Maarten Kleinjtes said botnetters could gather credit card or banking details, steal information, send spam or extort money.
Botnetting was a growing problem, but cyber criminals should be aware that they were not immune from detection.
"There is a misconception that somehow you are anonymous in the Internet, but that's not true."
Computer security expert John Martin said the case showed the importance of firewalls and virus- detection software. Hacking was getting more common and sophisticated, he said.
In one test, an unprotected computer hooked up to the Net was attacked within 20 seconds.