Teen hacker has mild autism

By Juliet Rowan

The teenager at the centre of an international cyber crime investigation has Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism often characterised by social isolation but great intelligence and talent in a particular area.

Owen Walker's mother yesterday told the Herald that her son had the condition and that police investigating allegations that he is the mastermind of an international "bot-net" ring were aware of the fact.

Speaking at the family home in Whitianga, Shell Moxham-Whyte said she had "no idea" of the 18-year-old's alleged involvement in the ring, which the FBI believes has infected more than one million computers. She said that the family had been advised not to speak publicly and that her son was now staying with relatives elsewhere.

Mrs Moxham-Whyte said he and the family had come under intense pressure since it was revealed on Saturday that he was the cyber figure Akill whom the FBI considered "the ringleader of an international bot-net coding group".

A bot-net is a network of computers under the command and control of a criminal "bot-herder" who uses the network to commit cyber crimes or rents it to other cyber criminals.

It is understood that Walker is now staying in Auckland.

Police have already interviewed the 18-year-old and plan to question him again once tests have been carried out on computers seized from his Whitianga home on Wednesday.

They have been working on the case since February with the FBI.

Friends and employers have praised Walker as a brilliant computer programmer and the police national electronic crime laboratory manager, Maarten Kleintjes, said he was "very, very bright in terms of his ability to be able to produce that sort of code".

The teenager has lost his job as a programmer at Trio Software Development but company director Glenn Campbell told the Herald he believed Walker did not actively seek trouble or illegal activity.

Friends have described him as a loner and said he was bullied at Mercury Bay Area School before he left in Year 9.

Mrs Moxham-Whyte said her son was an intelligent boy who had loved computers from a young age.

He had done correspondence school after he left Mercury Bay.

Asked if she knew whether he had been profiting from involvement in a criminal bot-net, she said, "I can't say any more".

She confirmed that her son's surname was Walker, after the Weekend Herald was told it was Wilson.

Owen is also known by "Snow Whyte" and "Snow Walker".

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a3 at 23 Jul 2014 10:13:24 Processing Time: 781ms