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Former Rutgers Student Pleads Guilty to Involvement in Cyber Attack

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TRENTON, NJ - A former Rutgers student pleaded guilty to his involvement in a series of cyber attacks against the Rutgers University computer network, which left the internet crippled for days at a time, US Department of Justice Officials announced on Dec. 13.

Paras Jha, 21, of Fanwood, faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, US officials announced, after he pled guilty to his involvement in a series of distributed denial of service attacks (DDOS), between November 2014 and September 2016.

“Jha’s attacks effectively shut down Rutgers University’s central authentication server, which maintained, among other things, the gateway portal through which staff, faculty, and students delivered assignments and assessments,” justice officials said.

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Six of the attacks happened in 2015 alone. One was in March during the spring 2015 midterm period, while another was at the end of April, during the spring 2015 finals period.

During the attacks, Jha maintained an anonymous twitter profile called “Exfocus,” which posted messages either taunting students or bragging about his successes in bringing down the network.

Jha pled guilty to the charges on Dec. 13 before US District Judge Michael Shipp in Trenton, officials said, including charges that he violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

On Dec. 8, two of Jha’s alleged co-conspirators, Josiah White, 20, of Washington, PA, and Dalton Norman, 21, of Metairie, LA, both pleaded guilty to criminal information in the District of Alaska, justice officials added.

Together, the three created and operated the powerful “Mirai Botnet,” which comprised a collection of a computers infected with malware and controlled as a group, officials said, without the knowledge or permission of the computer’s owners.

Mirai targeted IoT-connected devices, which included wireless cameras, routers and digital video recorders, after which the defendants were able to exploit vulnerabilities in users devices to allow them to force the devices to become part of the botnet.  

During the DDOS attacks, Mirai flooded the internet connection of a targeted computer, thereby crippling it.

Jha was first listed as a possible suspect behind the attacks in January 2017, but his father, Anand Jha, told NJ Advance Media he was confident his son had no involvement with the attacks.

In the fall of 2017, Jha attempted to destroy any evidence from his computers that indicated his involvement in the attacks, according to court documents unsealed on Tuesday, Dec. 12.

He then posted the code on a criminal forum online, to create the illusion of plausible deniability, the documents added.

But other criminals were able to use the source to conduct similar attacks, according to justice officials.

Jha is out on a $250,000 bail, and is scheduled for sentencing on March 13, 2018.

Rutgers officials said they were grateful the perpetrator had been identified, in a university-wide email.

"We hope the results of this investigation demonstrate how seriously we take such criminal acts and the harm they cause the Rutgers community," said, Michele Norin, chief information officer at Rutgers.

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