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Infamous Lizard Squad attacks on Sony, Microsoft lead to federal charges

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American teen arrested last month appeared before a judge in Chicago

Two teenagers have been charged with cyber crimes related to the 2014 holiday attacks that brought down the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live. Those distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks knocked millions of customers offline, rendering the gaming networks useless and costing Sony and Microsoft both money and goodwill with fans.

Zachary Buchta of Fallston, Maryland and Bradley Jan Willem Van Rooy of Leiden, the Netherlands were charged by U.S. attorneys in federal court for "conspiring to cause damage to protected computers." Buchta was arrested last month and ordered to appear Wednesday before a judge in Chicago. In addition to the charges, the Department of Justice also seized four domain names including lizardsquad.org.

A press release issued on Oct. 5 states that U.S. authorities were initially prompted to investigate Lizard Squad because of a for-pay harassment service. Spoofed telephone numbers were used to conduct automated, sustained campaigns. One victim allegedly received "a phone call every hour for thirty days" laden with graphic, violent threats.

It was the success of their harassment service, the DOJ alleges, that prompted Buchta, van Rooy and other members of Lizard Squad to organize the DDoS attacks that brought down the world’s largest gaming networks during their busiest season.

Last year additional arrests related to Lizard Squad were made in the United Kingdom.

The 2014 attacks against Microsoft and Sony were novel in that they leveraged a massive botnet of home routers. Lizard Squad is alleged to have sent huge amounts of data towards specific IP addresses, overloading servers and blocking out legitimate traffic.

That strategy may have been the precursor to last month’s historic attack on digital security news site Krebsonsecurity.com. Hosting provider Akamai says it may be the largest DDoS attack ever. Journalist Brian Krebs said it was likely the result of a botnet fashioned from many thousands of unprotected internet-of-things devices, such as home security cameras.

For more on how DDoS attacks work, and to watch them in real-time, check out this interactive map.