A 20-year-old Baltimore man is the third member of an alleged hacking ring to plead guilty in what prosecutors say was an attempt to steal more than $100 million of intellectual property.
And just which collection of priceless wisdom would this be? Why, the code to Microsoft’s Xbox Live onling gaming system and many of the most popular games that run on the system.
Nathan Leroux, 20, of Bowie, Maryland, is the latest to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit computer intrusions and criminal copyright infringement. Leroux has been in custody since attempting to flee into Canada from Buffalo, New York, on June 16, 2014.
Sanadodeh Nesheiwat, 28, of Washington, New Jersey, and David Pokora, 22, of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, previously pleaded guilty to the same conspiracy charge on Sept. 30, 2014. They remain in custody pending their sentencing hearings, which are scheduled for April 2015.
Pokora’s guilty plea is believed to have been the first conviction of a foreign-based individual for hacking into U.S. businesses to steal trade secret information. Charges against a fourth defendant, Austin Alcala, 19, of McCordsville, Indiana, remain pending.
Besides the Xbox code, prosecutors said the band of hackers also targeted games including the “FIFA” online soccer series; “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3;” and “Gears of War 3.”
The conspirators allegedly accessed and stole unreleased software, software source code, trade secrets, copyrighted and pre-release works, and other confidential and proprietary information. Members of the conspiracy also allegedly stole financial and other sensitive information relating to the companies – but not their customers – as well as some company employees.
Leroux admitted in court that he and others used the stolen intellectual property to build, and attempt to sell, counterfeit versions of the Xbox One console before its public release in November 2013. In July 2013, the FBI intercepted a counterfeit console built by Leroux, which was destined for the Republic of Seychelles.
Leroux also admitted that he developed a software exploit that allowed him and others to generate millions of “coins” for the FIFA soccer games playable on the Xbox Live platform. These coins are the virtual, in-game currency used to build a “FIFA Ultimate Team” in the games.
Without the authorization of Electronic Arts, the intellectual property rights holder to the FIFA games, Leroux and others sold bulk quantities of the “FIFA coins” via online black markets.
The value of the intellectual property and other data stolen by the hacking ring, as well as the costs associated with the victims’ responses to the conduct, is estimated to range between $100 million and $200 million. To date, the United States has seized over $620,000 in cash and other proceeds related to the case.