Sex, lies and cyberware: Online combatant faces prison for 'botnet' attack

The Philadelphia Inquirer/September 23, 2010

The two reclusive computer experts staged their vicious fight on a cyberspace battlefield, each intent on the other's destruction.

One, who has built a career out of creating false Web personas, lured his adversary into an adulterous "affair" with a fictitious online lover, a humiliating hoax he broadcast across the Internet.

His target, a software programmer formerly of Western Pennsylvania, retaliated by unleashing a worldwide computer virus.

But it was a short-lived victory for Bruce Raisley, 48, who had lived in Monaca, near Pittsburgh.

On Wednesday, a federal jury found that Raisley's vengeance turned criminal when he launched a program that directed about 100,000 computers to attack websites that republished stories detailing his sad saga, including the sites for Rolling Stone magazine and the Rick A. Ross Institute of New Jersey, which studies controversial groups and movements.

Raisley faces up to a decade in prison, but is more likely to receive three to five years for his conviction after a weeklong trial in U.S. District Court in Camden, authorities said.

Raisley was provoked, prosecutors said, by an intentionally devastating prank staged by Xavier Von Erck of Portland, Ore., founder of the organization Perverted Justice.

Raisley initially was a supporter of the group, which collaborated with Dateline NBC on the television newsmagazine's controversial "To Catch a Predator" features. He reportedly participated in Internet chatrooms associated with the organization.

When Von Erck launched Perverted Justice, he and others posed as minors online to attract pedophiles whom they identified on the website. The group boasts that hundreds have been arrested as a result of its work, and Von Erck was hired by NBC as a consultant.

Raisley grew disenchanted with Von Erck's techniques, which have raised legal concerns. Their falling-out became personal when Raisley accused Perverted Justice of using a picture of his young son to lure predators.

He filed a 2005 complaint with the FBI, which found no evidence that his son had been used as bait, authorities said. Von Erck also has denied the accusation.

Raisley continued his crusade against Von Erck by identifying the group's anonymous volunteers and allegedly threatened to harm them, authorities said.

Von Erck has admitted he also launched a crusade. In 2005, he posed online as an adult woman named Holly and began an Internet relationship with the unsuspecting Raisley. The two engaged in steamy correspondence and online sex. At the request of "Holly," Raisley provided explicit images of himself.

Within months, Raisley, then living in Arkansas, told his wife that he loved another woman and went to meet Holly at the Little Rock airport.

A photographer sent by Von Erck snapped shots of Raisley, flowers in hand, waiting for the paramour who didn't exist. The images were immediately posted on the Internet along with transcripts of his chats with Holly.

Raisley's embarrassment increased in 2006 when Radar Magazine published an article that questioned tactics used by Perverted Justice. Rolling Stone ran a similar story the next year. Both included the tale of Raisley's humiliation by Von Erck. The pieces were republished on numerous websites.

Along the way, Raisley lost his job. His wife filed for divorce. He no longer had contact with his son. He became desperate to remove the stories.

The self-taught computer whiz did what he knew best: He wrote a program with a malicious virus that spread worldwide in 2007. Its intention, he has admitted, was to remotely control computers to bring down the websites that posted his sordid tale.

The virus hit hard in Europe, including Slovenia. Internet sites that included information about Raisley were bombarded and either crashed or slowed to a crawl.

During the trial before Judge Robert B. Kugler, prosecutors focused on the technicalities of the crime, describing such things as "botnets" used to spread viruses to computers.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lee Vartan and Erez Liebermann told the panel of five men and seven women about Von Erck's cruel prank. For that, Raisley deserved sympathy, they said.

But the computer hacking caused more than $100,000 in damage and Raisley had to be held accountable, the prosecutors charged.

Raisley's public defender, John H. Yauch, tried to convince the jury there was no credible evidence to link his client with the Rick Ross site. The FBI charged Raisley in 2009 with intentionally [attacking] the site [using computers infected] with the virus, which the institute said it spent [substantial sums] to resolve.

After Wednesday's verdict, Raisley - who is now self-employed and lives with his mother in the Midwest - initially declined comment to a reporter and then offered a brief apology.

"I forgive Von Erck for what he did to me, and I hope he can forgive me for what I did to him," he said.

In addition to a possible prison sentence, Raisley's conviction could carry a $250,000 fine and restitution to his victims. Sentencing is set for Jan. 7.

Until then, Raisley is permitted to use a computer only for work.

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