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Nintendo Switch hacker pleads guilty, faces child pornography sentence, too

Prosecutors say he promised to stop hacking, broke into Nintendo’s servers anyway

Nintendo Switch gallery Photo: Nintendo of America
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

A California man who hacked into Nintendo of America’s servers and leaked information about the Nintendo Switch before its 2017 launch must pay the company almost $260,000 in restitution, and that may be the least of his problems.

Ryan S. Hernandez pleaded guilty on Friday to charges related to a 2016 phishing scheme that got him access to Nintendo’s servers, where he was able to download several confidential files related to the Switch and forthcoming game releases. But he also pleaded guilty to child pornography charges, related to a directory of more than 1,000 sexually explicit videos and images of minors that he stored in a folder he labeled “Bad Stuff.”

The Nintendo charges could get him a maximum sentence of five years in prison, but the child pornography charges carry a potential sentence of 20 years. Hernandez will also have to register as a sex offender. Prosecutors, in a plea agreement, have recommended that a judge sentence him to three years in prison. Hernandez will be sentenced on April 21, 2020.

In a statement from the office of Brian T. Moran, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington (Seattle), prosecutors said Hernandez had been contacted by investigators about the first hack in October 2017. Then a 16-year-old, he promised to stop his hacking.

“Nevertheless, from at least June 2018 to June 2019, Hernandez returned to his malicious activities,” the statement said, “hacking into multiple Nintendo servers and stealing confidential information about various popular video games, gaming consoles, and developer tools.”

Prosecutors say Hernandez boasted about his thefts on Twitter and Discord and leaked some of the information to others. They say he also operated an online forum, called “Ryan’s Underground Hangout,” where he shared information about Nintendo network vulnerabilities with others.

Hernandez has already agreed to pay $259,323 in restitution to Nintendo “for the remediation costs caused by his conduct,” the office said.

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