Jeanson James Ancheta, a 20 year-old man from Los Angeles, has been arrested by the FBI and charged with running a network of zombie computers with software installed that allows them to be controlled remotely.
Ancheta has been accused of using the botnet to install adware on other people's computers, some at the Weapons Division of the US Naval Air Warfare Center in China Lake, California and at the US Department of Defense.
He was captured in an elaborate sting operation when FBI agents lured him to their local office on the pretext of collecting computer equipment.
Ancheta has been indicted on 17 counts including conspiracy, attempted transmission of code to a protected computer, transmission of code to a government computer, accessing a protected computer to commit fraud, and money laundering. He faces a possible 50 years in prison.
Ancheta is alleged to have made £35,000 from his activities and invested some of the money in more computers to extend the reach of his activities. He also apparently bought himself a new BMW.
"Zombie botnets are a growing security problem as they pump out spam campaigns, steal information, or launch attacks against corporate networks," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos.
"In this case it appears that they were being used primarily for displaying unwanted pop-up advertisements, filling the hacker's pockets with cash."