A Virginia college student has admitted that he developed and sold malicious software that was used to steal passwords and banking information, programs that he began developing as a high school student.
Zachary Shames, 21, of Great Falls pleaded guilty Friday in federal court in Alexandria to charges of “aiding and abetting computer intrusions” by building the software, known as a keylogger, and selling it to more than 3,000 users. The software infected more than 16,000 computers, according to Dana J. Boente, the U.S. attorney for the eastern district of Virginia. U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady accepted the plea.
Shames is a junior at James Madison University, where he is pursuing a degree in computer science, and he is a graduate of Langley High School in Fairfax County. In a statement Friday, Boente said that Shames “developed initial versions of his keylogger while attending high school in Northern Virginia, and continued to modify and market the illegal product from his college dorm room.”
Shames says in an online résumé that he received a programmer of the year award from his high school principal in 2013. A Fairfax County schools spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for additional information about whether the district was contacted by law enforcement or whether school computers had been compromised by malware developed by Shames.
Attorneys for Shames did not respond to requests for comment, and the Shames family did not respond to a request for comment.
JMU officials declined to address specific questions about his current standing at the school.
“Typically a felony conviction would trigger a review of the charges by our Office of Student Accountability and Restorative Practices,” said JMU spokesman Bill Wyatt. But because of federal privacy laws, Wyatt could not say whether that has happened for Shames.
On his website, Shames lists two internships at companies in Northern Virginia where he worked during the past three summers as a software engineer intern and a technical intern. It was unclear whether law enforcement had contacted those companies.
Shames faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced June 16.