An Indian-American student has pleaded guilty to launching a massive cyberattack on a US university’s computer network that disrupted the educational process for tens of thousands of students, officials have said. Paras Jha, 21, of New Jersey along with two others Josiah White, 20, from Pennsylvania and Dalton Norman, 21, from Louisiana also pleaded guilty to creating and operating two botnets last year, which targeted ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) devices, the Department of Justice announced Tuesday. “Paras Jha has admitted his responsibility for multiple hacks of the Rutgers University computer system,” Acting US Attorney William Fitzpatrick said in a statement yesterday. “These computer attacks shut down the server used for all communications among faculty, staff and students, including assignment of course work to students, and students’ submission of their work to professors to be graded,” he said. “The defendant’s actions effectively paralysed the system for days at a time and maliciously disrupted the educational process for tens of thousands of Rutgers’ students.
“Yesterday, the defendant has admitted his role in this criminal offence and will face the legal consequences for it,” Fitzpatrick said. In a guilty plea before US District Judge Michael Shipp in Trenton federal court in New Jersey, Paras accepted of violating the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act. According to court documents, between November 2014 and September 2016, Paras executed a series of attacks on the networks of Rutgers University. His 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. At times, he succeeded in taking the portal offline for multiple consecutive periods, causing damage to the university, its faculty, and its students.
The count to which Jha pleaded guilty is punishable by a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross amount of any pecuniary gain or loss derived from the offence, whichever is greater. Sentencing is scheduled for March 13. Earlier on December 8, Jha, White and Norman pleaded guilty to criminal informations in the District of Alaska charging them each with conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act in operating the Mirai Botnet.