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Lee Graham Walker, Axel Gembe CHARGED in Operation Cyberslam

October 6, 2008

A British man and a German man were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiring to intentionally cause damage to the computers of two U.S.-based retail satellite companies by launching large-scale distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks that shut down the companiesí websites.

The indictment returned this afternoon charges Lee Graham Walker, 24, of Bleys Bolton, England, and Axel Gembe, 25, of Germany. They are both accused of one count of conspiracy and one count of intentionally damaging a computer system, charges that could bring each of them a prison sentence of up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

The FBI's Operation Cyberslam, began in 2003 following a series of distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attacks on a large Los Angeles vendor of digital recorders. The attacks took business offline, along with other private and government bodies, for two weeks, resulting in losses ranging from $200,000 to more than $1 million, according to the FBI.

The indictment alleges a conspiracy involving at least four individuals: Walker; Gembe; Jay Echouafni, the former owner of Orbit Communications Corporation; and Paul Ashley, an Echouafni business associate and the former owner of Creative Internet Techniques. Echouafni and Ashley were charged in 2004 for their role in the conspiracy.  Ashley pleaded guilty after his case was transferred to Ohio, and he has already served a two-year prison sentence.

The case against Echouafni and Ashley was the first successful investigation of a large-scale DDOS attack that was waged for a commercial purpose in the United States. The now-four defendants charged in the investigation allegedly were involved in launching a series of relentless DDOS attacks against competitors of Echouafniís company. The attacks were waged against the computers of the Miami Beach-based Rapid Satellite and the Los Angeles-based Weaknees by attacking their public websites, where the companies did all of their business.

A DDOS attack is launched when a multitude of compromised computers attack a single target, causing a sustained denial of service for users of the targeted system. This type of attack, once the domain of teenagers vying for online reputation and control of chat channels, has been used more recently by cyber extortionists and unscrupulous business owners attempting to sabotage competitors.

In October 2003, Weaknees reported a series of DDOS attacks that effectively halted its business for nearly two weeks and caused more than $200,000 in losses. Rapid Satellite was similarly attacked and suffered significant losses.

Court documents allege that Echouafni and Ashley hired Walker to launch the DDOS attacks against Orbitís competitors in California and Florida. The indictment alleges that Echoufani directed Ashley to prevent the public from accessing the Rapid Satellite and Weaknees websites and Ashley, in turn, asked Walker and others to launch DDOS attacks against the victim companies. According to the indictment, Walker used a network of computers that he developed with Gembe to launch the attacks. Gembe is the developer of the well known Agobot computer worm, a version of which allegedly was used in the DDOS attacks.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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