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High-Profile Hackers Get Their Days in Court

And in two cases, that day is followed by a whole bunch of days in the hoosegow

Three high-profile cybercrime cases have come to a head in the past week, leaving two hackers headed for jail and a third arguing a pivotal legal appeal.

Two of the cases involved sentencing for previously convicted defendants, both of whom were found guilty of using botnets as a primary weapon.

On Tuesday, Gregory King (aka Silenz) of Fairfield, Calif., pleaded guilty to two counts of transmitting code to cause damage to a protected computer. He agreed to a two-year sentence, according to the U.S. Attorney's office in Eastern California.

King admitted to using a 7,000-node botnet to launch multiple distributed denial of service attacks on Killanet, a Web design and gaming site, between 2004 and 2006. He also made DDOS attacks on Castlecops, an Internet security site that specializes in identifying spammers and phishers, in 2007. (See Are You Ready for a DDOS Attack?)

On Wednesday, a Florida judge sentenced Robert Matthew Bentley to 41 months in prison for hacking into computers used by Newell Rubbermaid and harnessing them to create a botnet that was used to spread advertising for a Western European company. Each new infected computer would register with the advertising company, which would pay Bentley a commission, authorities said in a news report.

More than 100 computers were affected at Rubbermaid, resulting in costs of more than $15,000, the court said. According to the indictment, Bentley and his co-conspirators collected more than $5,000 between Oct. 1, 2005, and Oct. 31, 2006. The documents did not say how large Bentley's botnet was.

And earlier today, five judges in the U.K. began hearing an appeal from Gary McKinnon, the British hacker, who is accused of attacking 97 U.S. government computers between 2001 and 2002 in what has been described as the "biggest military hack ever" on U.S. systems.

McKinnon is fighting extradition to the U.S. on charges that carry a potential sentence of 60 years in prison. McKinnon is arguing that U.S. authorities stepped over the line in a plea bargain negotiation and threatened him with a stiffer sentence if he did not voluntarily agree to the extradition. A decision on the appeal is not expected for several weeks.

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