Hacker pleads guilty to costly cyber attacks on computer servers

SAN DIEGO — A Utah man pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in San Diego to carrying out a global spree of malicious computer hacks that cost his victims at least $95,000 in cumulative damages.

Austin Thompson, 23, admitted that he committed the series of denial- of-service hacking attacks in 2013 and 2014, mostly going after online gaming companies and servers, including then-San Diego-based Sony Online Entertainment.

Perpetrators of such cyber crimes intentionally flood targeted hosts or networks with computer traffic until they cannot respond or simply crash, leaving victims unable to access information systems, devices or other network resources.

During the hacks, Thompson typically used a Twitter account under the username “@DerpTrolling” to announce that an attack was imminent, then posted screenshots or other photos showing that victims’ servers had been taken down.

The attacks crashed game servers and related computers around the world, often for hours at a time, according to prosecutors.

Authorities disclosed no suspected motive for the crimes.

“Denial-of-service attacks cost businesses millions of dollars annually,” San Diego-area U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman said. “We are committed to finding and prosecuting those who disrupt businesses, often for nothing more than ego.”

The defendant will face a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine at his sentencing, scheduled for March 1.

The case arose out of an investigation by the FBI’s San Diego-area office, according to court documents.