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 2007 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".
Asperger syndrome (also called Asperger's syndrome, Asperger's disorder, Asperger's or AS) is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and people with AS therefore show significant difficulties in social interaction and restricted, stereotyped patterns of behavior and interests. AS differs from other ASDs by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development. Although not mentioned in standard diagnostic criteria, physical clumsiness and atypical use of language are frequently reported.
Asperger syndrome is named after Austrian pediatrician Hans Asperger who, in 1944, described children in his practice who lacked nonverbal communication skills, demonstrated limited empathy with their peers, and were physically clumsy. Fifty years later, AS was standardized as a diagnosis, but questions about many aspects remain. For example, there is lingering doubt about the distinction between AS and high-functioning autism (HFA); partly because of this, the prevalence of AS is not firmly established. The exact cause is unknown, although research supports the likelihood of a genetic basis; brain imaging techniques have not identified a clear common pathology.
There is no single treatment for Asperger syndrome, and the effectiveness of particular interventions is supported by only limited data. Intervention is aimed at improving symptoms and function. The mainstay of management is behavioral therapy, focusing on specific deficits to address poor communication skills, obsessive or repetitive routines, and physical clumsiness. Most individuals with AS can improve over time, but difficulties with communication, social adjustment and independent living continue into adulthood. Some researchers and people with AS have advocated a shift in attitudes toward the view that AS is a difference, rather than a disability that must be treated or cured.
[b][i]Personally I think he's guilty, and not unable to interact with society at all, and he should serve time for disrupting over a million computers!