Former Rutgers student admits to creating code that crashed internet
Source: Kelly Heyboer and Ted Sherman
A former Rutgers University student has pleaded guilty in federal court to being one of the architects of a computer virus that crashed websites around the world in October 2016 in one of the worst outages in the history of the internet, prosecutors said.
Paras Jha, of Fanwood, also pleaded guilty in federal court in Trenton Wednesday to an additional computer fraud charge for repeatedly disabling Rutgers University's internet network while taunting school officials on social media.
His attorney said Jha is sorry for what he did and takes full responsibility for his actions.
"Paras Jha is a brilliant young man whose intellect and technical skills far exceeded his emotional maturity," said Robert Stahl, Jha's attorney.
The 21-year-old former Rutgers computer science major, who lives at home with his parents, admitted in a series of pleas that stretch from New Jersey to Alaska to helping create powerful computer codes, including the "Mirai" computer virus that terrorized the internet in 2016.
He and his co-conspirators used the code to crash various websites, then published the "Mirai" virus on hacker websites in September 2016, prosecutors said. The following month, other hackers took the code and launched a massive cyber attack that crippled much of the internet.
Though his code was used, Jha is not charged with directly launching the October 2016 cyber attack that crashed Twitter, Netflix and other websites around the world, prosecutors said. Those hackers remain unknown and investigators declined to comment on the investigation.
On Wednesday morning, standing before U.S. District Judge Michael Shipp in federal court in Trenton dressed in a dark suit and dark-rimmed glasses, Jha admitted to repeatedly crashing Rutgers' computer network between 2014 and 2016. He said he bragged about his exploits online using the screen name "exfocus".
Jha admitted to timing his attacks on Rutgers' websites to when they would cause the most disruption to students, faculty and staff.
"In fact, you timed your attacks because you wanted to overload the central authentication server when it would be the most devastating to Rutgers, right?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Shana Chen asked Jha in court.
"Yes," he said in a clear, strong voice.
Jha gave no motive for his attacks on Rutgers or his attacks on the internet.
He faces up to 10 years in prison, though he will likely face far less prison time under federal sentencing guidelines. He also faces a $250,000 fine and has agreed to forfeit 13 bitcoin -- worth about $221,000 -- as restitution.