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Irreverent cyber "troll" may face hard prison time for his actions, continues to fight for his innocence

A New York security "researcher" faces the prospect of spending five years behind bars and being forced to pay up to $250,000, after a federal jury of his peers found him guilty of cybercrimes involving his 2010 exploitation a flaw in the security of iPad service provider AT&T. He allegedly used the flaw to expose the email address of over 100,000 individuals.

I. A Leaky Hole

The story began in June 2010.  Apple, Inc. (AAPL) had just released the first generation iPad, a tablet computer that transformed the form factor from overlooked to in vogue.  And the service provider du jour for iPads with 3G data connectivity was AT&T, Inc. (T).  

But AT&T's iPad support services had a relatively minor, but notable security flaw.  AT&T's iPad-related servers ran a script that accepted an ICC-ID (integrated circuit card identifiers), an identifier unique to each device.  

If sent a valid ICC-ID, the script served up the personal email of the subscriber associated with that device.  AT&T had planned to use the feature to generate a slick AJAX-style response on its web applications for the iPad.

iPad hole
AT&T left a gaping hole in their iPad web scripts. [Image Source: DailyTech/Jason Mick]

But Andrew Auernheimer, Daniel Spitler, and other hackers with the profanely named "troll" hacker collective Goatse Security identified the vulnerability when they were probing AT&T's servers.  They quickly wrote a so-called "data slurper" -- a script that performed a brute force attack, working through tables of ICC-IDs and recording the ones that received a response.

AT&T apologized for the breach and took down the script, closing its hole.

II. Investigation, Trial Conclude in Guilty Verdict

But the damage was already done.  Goatse Sec. had published its results to the blog site Gawker, revealing parts of a data set that contained roughly 114,000 email addresses.  Among the high profile figures exposed were ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Soon after the data loss U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, investigating the incident, conducted a raid on the home Mr. Auernheimer who had moved from New York to a residence in Arkansas.  Mr. Auernheimer, aka "weev" or "Escher Auernheimer" was arrested by federal agents on suspicion of computer crimes.  Authorities also allegedly found cocaine, LSD, and ecstasy in his residence.  Lawyers for Mr. Auernheimer contend that the raid was unnecessary and illegal.  The security "researcher" has yet to face charges on the drugs found.

However, he was charged with one count of conspiracy to access servers without permission and one count of identity theft.  These offenses -- spelled out in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 (18 USC § 1030) -- carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 USD.

Andrew Auernheimer
Goatse Security "researcher" Andrew Auernheimer was found guilty of two counts of computer crimes and may be sentenced to up to five years in prison, pending appeal. [Image Source: AP]

Mr. Auernheimer was charged in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, the location where his co-defendant (Daniel Spitler) was charged.  Initially, federal authorities had planned to charge the two members separately, which would have resulted in a trial of Mr. Auernheimer in an Arkansas District Court.  However, the case was eventually shuffled to the New Jersey District Court.

In June 2011, Mr. Spitler, aka "JacksonBrown" pled guilty to the two cybercrimes counts, in hopes of receiving a lighter sentence.  He is currently awaiting sentencing.

Mr. Auernheimer has fought the charges, and the trial concluded this week with the jury finding Mr. Auernheimer guilty of both counts.

III. Appeal is Pending

The hacker's attorney, Tor Ekeland, disputes the verdict, arguing that the jury and judge misinterpreted the cybercrimes statute and the nature of Mr. Auernehimer's data grab.  The hacker is currently free on bail.  His attorney is appealing the case to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia.

Andrew Auernheimer
Mr. Auernheimer's attorney argues the guilty verdict is the result of technical ignorance on behalf of the jury. [Image Source: Steffie Keith/Flickr]

A Goatse Sec. spokesperson in a previous interview with DailyTech defended the disclosure and data grab, emphasizing that Goatse Sec. researchers did not try to profit off the emails they grabbed.  The spokesperson writes:

While plenty of jokes about selling the list to Chinese spammers or using it to screw with the stock market circulated #gnaa, the truth of the matter is that disclosing this vulnerability let customers know how their data was being mishandled. As it was widely reported, the data was only released to Gawker to provide proof of the vulnerability. Considering the circumstances, it was the most ethical thing they could do.

The spokesperson, like Mr. Auernheimer's attorney, chalks the possibility of a conviction up to technical ignorance on behalf of the jury, remarking:

As for the "hacking" itself, describing the activities of GoatSec as "hacking" or "unauthorized entry" is a gross overstatement and dramatization. If you examine what actually took place, it was simply enumerating account IDs by using the API exactly as it was designed. There was no authentication to bypass, no warnings about prohibiting access or anything else of the sort. The only hope the DOJ has of prosecuting them is based on the likely technical ignorance of the jury, sad to say.

You can read my full interview with the Goatse Sec. spokesperson here.

Sources: FBI, Reuters



Comments     Threshold


This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

RE: This is crap...
By ritualm on 11/21/2012 4:34:45 PM , Rating: 2
Wrong.
quote:
this is not what defines a police state

You already have one. It's called the Prison industry, its job is to ensure a constant flow of criminals, therefore it needs creative interpretation and implementation of existing laws in order for the industry to prosper. Refusing to legalize softcore contraband e.g. marijuana being one of the ways to accomplish that very goal.


RE: This is crap...
By kleinma on 11/21/2012 5:22:48 PM , Rating: 2
So that is why 2 states just legalized it for recreational use, 18 states legaized it for medical use, non violent prisoners are being released or having sentences shortened left and right because of over population of prisons?


RE: This is crap...
By superstition on 11/22/2012 12:57:44 AM , Rating: 2
The Hidden History of ALEC and Prison Labor
http://www.thenation.com/article/162478/hidden-his...
quote:
prison labor for the private sector was legally barred for years, to avoid unfair competition with private companies. But this has changed thanks to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), its Prison Industries Act, and a little-known federal program known as PIE

quote:
ALEC helped pioneer some of the toughest sentencing laws on the books today, like mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenders, “three strikes” laws, and “truth in sentencing” laws. In 1995 alone, ALEC’s Truth in Sentencing Act was signed into law in twenty-five states. (Then State Rep. Scott Walker was an ALEC member when he sponsored Wisconsin's truth-in-sentencing laws and, according to PR Watch, used its statistics to make the case for the law.)

quote:
ALEC has also worked to pass state laws to create private for-profit prisons, a boon to two of its major corporate sponsors: Corrections Corporation of America and Geo Group (formerly Wackenhut Corrections), the largest private prison firms in the country. An In These Times investigation last summer revealed that ALEC arranged secret meetings between Arizona’s state legislators and CCA to draft what became SB 1070, Arizona’s notorious immigration law, to keep CCA prisons flush with immigrant detainees. ALEC has proven expertly capable of devising endless ways to help private corporations benefit from the country’s massive prison population.

That mass incarceration would create a huge captive workforce was anticipated long before the US prison population reached its peak—and at a time when the concept of “rehabilitation” was still considered part of the mission of prisons.

quote:
in 1993, when Texas State Representative and ALEC member Ray Allen crafted the Texas Prison Industries Act, which aimed to expand the PIE program. After it passed in Texas, Allen advocated that it be duplicated across the country. In 1995, ALEC’s Prison Industries Act was born.

quote:
Prison labor has already started to undercut the business of corporations that don’t use it. In Florida, PRIDE has become one of the largest printing corporations in the state, its cheap labor having a significant impact upon smaller local printers. This scenario is playing out in states across the country. In addition to Florida's forty-one prison industries, California alone has sixty. Another 100 or so are scattered throughout other states. What's more, several states are looking to replace public sector workers with prison labor. In Wisconsin Governor Walker’s recent assault on collective bargaining opened the door to the use of prisoners in public sector jobs in Racine, where inmates are now doing landscaping, painting, and other maintenance work. According to the Capitol Times, “inmates are not paid for their work

quote:
“It’s bad enough that our companies have to compete with exploited and forced labor in China,” says Scott Paul Executive Director of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a coalition of business and unions. “They shouldn’t have to compete against prison labor here at home.


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