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Former DrinkOrDie Member Chris Tresco Answers 888

Posted by Roblimo
from the what-you-going-to-do-when-they-come-for-you? dept.
Okay, former DrinkOrDie member and convicted warez dude Chris Tresco got his answers to your questions back to us, so here they are. (Note: Chris does not advise you to follow in his footsteps.)

1) How clueful are they?
by jeffy124

In your opinion, how did the each party (prosecution, your lawyer, and most important - the judge) look when it came to their understanding of technology? Did they know every nook and cranny, or seem lost in a maze of confusion? Do you think an understanding of the issues in question was a significant factor in court proceedings?

Chris:
That is a tough question to answer considering the organizational structure of the government's side of things. The prosecution works very closely with other units of law enforcement when it comes to technically challenging cases like mine. In my situation, the government prosecutors were very well briefed about how the technical aspect of the warez scene work. They are briefed by law enforcement agents who are very technically savvy and able to sift through all of the data that they are presented with at the time a warrant is carried out. With this data, the agents build a packet of evidence that the procecutors can look through and easily understand. They had a plethora of evidence on which to build a case against me and it boiled down that all the ones and zeros that the agents were able to pick through added up to copyright infringement in the prosecution's eyes.

The judge doesn't really see the technical aspect of the case. He sees a report of the evidence, which is written in clean English, and makes his decision based on that.

My lawyer isn't very technically adept, but lawyers are pretty bright. He was able to grasp the concepts of everything, if he wasn't able to, he wouldn't be my lawyer. :) Besides, I was able to coach him through most of it.

2) "The Bust", WarGames or Matrix?
by msheppard

What was "The Bust" like? Was it like _WarGames_ where they showed up in black vans and confiscated your computers and rifled through your trash? Or was it more like _Matrix_ where they called you in and presented all sorts of evidence they collected online etc.?

Chris:
I would say that it was a cross between the two. I will lay out exactly what happened to me:

I was sitting at my computer chatting with a fellow DOD member on IRC. All of a sudden I noticed my net connection died. When I went to walk out the door, a U.S. Customs agent met me. "Mr. Tresco, My name is XXXXX, I am with the U.S. Customs Department. Would you mind coming with me?" As I turned the corner, there were about 20 law enforcement officials combing the halls of my workplace. We proceeded to a conference room where I answered questions for the better part of the day while the agents proceeded to carry out their warrant. They were looking for specific systems that were on the warrant. They had IP addresses. Technically, they had the authority to take everything on the network that the computers identified on the warrant were on, however they followed the warrant pretty strictly, taking only the stuff on it. It was really the hardest day of my life. I had no idea what was going on most of the time. I felt like I was in a dream.

3) Was there a feeling that DoD was too big?
by crunnluadh

The incredibly large volume of warez DoD was trading must have been staggering. At any point in time did you or anyone else in DoD ever think that the whole ring was getting way out of hand? If so, what ever came from that or those discussions?

Chris:
In terms of percentages of releases put out by DOD in relation to the scene, we weren't doing all that many. We did, however, have quite a large number of ftp sites that were being heavily utilized. One of our private leech sites was larger than a terrabyte of games and movies. It was constantly being uploaded to and downloaded from. This should give you an idea of the amount of trading that was going on.

To answer your other question... I felt on a daily basis that things were getting out of control. There were times that I did actually quit, but only for a day or so. IRC always brought me back online. That was my biggest mistake. DOD was a warez group, yes... but imagine a bunch of guys/gals sitting around talking all day and suddenly you stop showing up... You start to miss that type of interaction.

4) Feelings?
by Sebastopol

Are you scared about going to prison? Do they prepare you in any way before you enter the facility, or do they just throw you in and that's it?

Just typing these questions make me uncomfortable.

Chris:
I am very scared to go to prison. I have never been in any sort of jail in my life. They prepare you in the sense that they tell you where and when to go, what you can bring, and what type of facility it is. The rest is done through books and my lawyer, who has been really great through this whole ordeal. I am fortunate enough to be assigned to a minimum security facility close to my home.

5) If it wasn't about the money, what was it about?
by wackybrit

You were a sysadmin at MIT, so were probably pulling in a pretty good wage.. at least, probably better than 50% of the Slashdot readership anyway.

So if it wasn't about the money, what was it about? Prestige is one option, but people in these groups need to keep hidden, so that doesn't fit. Was it for the ideals? If so, what ideals are there in ripping off software?

I can understand why people who can't afford software rip it off.. they have stuff to do, and can't afford $500 for Photoshop or whatever.. but tell me why someone with a decent salary will work in secret to beat the software companies.. what is the motivation?

Chris:
My motivation had absolutely nothing to do with the software, the prestige, the civil disobedience, or the mysteriousness of it all. My motivation was purely and simply putting technology to work. I have always been a curious cat, like most of you that read Slashdot. I was basically the Sysadmin of DrinkOrDie. I love to make computers work together, build up networks, install services, lockdown boxes... you guys know the drill. I got very carried away with what I was doing and forgot to confide in my moral self. I knew I was doing wrong, and yes... to clear anything up... it is absolutely wrong to steal software from a company. Whether it is ones or zeros or bags of money, it is stealing. If for no other reason, it is wrong because of the license agreement. If you don't agree with the license, don't use the software.

6) questions from a fellow cracker
by Anonymous Coward

I am a cracker from a fairly well known group, living in the US. We take normal precautions (encrypted email/irc), but there are clear vulnerabilities that cant easily be eliminated (topsite accounts and the possibility of trojaned supplied software, etc.). The dod bust stunned all of us with the lengths of the sentences, which seem out of proproportion to the crime. I find myself asking more and more whether the risk is worth the fun. We are all in it for the commaraderie and the friends (and the access to files); of course none of us are making any money from it. My question is, if you had it to do over again, would you stay out of a group, and of the scene? Were there risks you took that you sholdn't have? What were they? Any advice to someone still in the scene who wants to stay but worries about being caught?

Chris:
If I had to do it over again, I would absolutely not get involved with the scene. The scene is technically organized crime... that is it. Mobsters have friends too, but would you want to go to prison for what you and your fellow comrades are doing on the net? Isn't it better to pay for the occasional piece of software you might want than to pay with 33 months in federal prison? I think so... And you say here:

"I find myself asking more and more whether the risk is worth the fun."

That is the wrong way to think about it. You are asking yourself if it is worth something to commit a crime. What you should be asking yourself is, if what you are doing is fundamentally wrong. If it is (and I would say that it is) then stop doing it.

To answer the rest of your question... The only pertinent risk was getting involved with the scene in the first place. You will get caught sooner or later if you continue doing what you are doing. My advice to you is to get out while you still can. Any precautions you take are easily circumvented. For example, email encrypted via PGP is only as strong as the people who get the email. If the government busts 20 people in your group, the odds of one of the people giving up their passphrase is pretty good. from that point, all the mail is readable. Encrypted IRC is not going to do it either. What if one of the people you are chatting with is an informant? Encryption becomes meaningless.

My advice: get out of the scene.

7) Plans for your stay?
by zbuffered

One of the things about jail is that you have nothing but free time. So what do you plan to do? Study for a new career? Work out constantly? Plan your escape? Learn to speak Sanskrit?

When you get out, you will have had 33 months of basically no real responsibilities. If you find a nice, cushy prison, you can get some real work done. Are you going to use this time to make your life when you get out of jail better?

Also, when you get out, what do you plan to do? Something in the computer field, or do you plan to change your path when you get out? If I were in your place, I think I'd just get fed up with computers and become a florist or something.

Chris:
During the time I am in prison, I will educate myself. I will hopefully be able to take some classes towards a degree. Since I love working with systems, I will hopefully be able to school myself in the art of business and compliment my technical skills. My passion lies with IT, I would love to take the education I get from prison (formal or not) and use it to better my career and make me a better person.

8) Rise of P2P?
by Rayonic

How do you feel about the rise of P2P and its affects on the Warez community? Do you think it makes it safer (safety in numbers?) or do you think that it'll bring down the fist of the law even harder?

Which P2P networks did you prefer, if any?

Chris:
In the context of the warez scene, P2P networks don't play any part. They are essentially mutually exclusive members. I think that people in the warez scene used P2P networks just as frequently and for the same purposes as the majority of P2P users. P2P and the warez scene do, however, relate in one fashion. Both networks utilize the internet as a means to illegally distribute copyrighted works. This will affect both entities in that the more illegal activity that goes on in general, the more law enforcement will be trying to put an end to it. This puts more heat on both services. Technology crimes are also a hot topic as of late. So popular that there are many organizations, like the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) at www.siia.net and the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) of the Department of Justice at www.cybercrime.gov, whose sole purpose is to stop them from happening. Software companies really do lose money from piracy, why else would they support these types of organizations?

Oh. and I preferred ftp.

9) What is your opinion of free software?
by Billly Gates

If you plan not to pirate software again would you chose to pay for commercial apps or would you use free software?

Has your opinion changed about free software vs commercial software because of your unfortunate experience?

Do you think strong armed tactics by the BSA and upcoming drm will actually help spread free software?

Chris:
I generally try to run linux on the desktop where ever possible. That being said, I love free software, I used it when I was pirating and I use it now. I am composing this in OpenOffice btw. :)

I think both free and commercial software have their place in the industry. I also think that DRM and the BSA won't really have any effect on free software. People and businesses who pay for software don't have to worry about these features because what they are doing is legitimate. In my mind, I would think that companies who are completely compliant who are targeted by the BSA would be happy about it. They would clear their name and be finally exonerated. With respect to DRM, I think this technology is mainly targeted at media right now. That being said, I don't think it will help spread free software. except for maybe free Ogg codecs and players. and a lot more Ogg-files.

10) Prove me wrong.
by _xeno_

I want you to explain if you disagree with the following and if so, why.

My understanding of this is that you were involved with the illegal distribution of copyrighted works, depriving the potential owners of money for the works (possibly - the reality may be "probably not," but...). You then received 33 months of jail time (or just under 3 years) which seems to me to be rather fair.

Based on the Operation Buccaneer information, you received counts of felony (criminal copyright infringement, probably), and conspiracy (to commit criminal copyright infringement, probably). (Both probablies are guesses based on the document.) This seems to be in line with what one would expect for charges against a ring of people whose sole goal is to steal massive quantities of software and redistribute them to as many people as want them at no charge. (The fact that there was no charge probably reduces the sentence to a degree, but the fact that it required specialized skills and involved a large collective of people acting together to commit criminal copyright infringement probably both outweigh that.)

So... why should I feel sorry for you? You got what you deserved. You stole from people and gave copies to as many people as you could. Based on the MIT press release, you illegal utilized systems you were supposed to be administrating for the purposes of illegally distributing software. As far as I can see, you got exactly what you deserved.

So - prove me wrong. Demonstrate that my understanding is flawed or that I am misunderstanding the crime. Demonstrate that it should not be a crime. Or - accept my view. Explain if you feel sorry for your actions and believe that you did indeed commit the crimes. Or come up with another response that does not fall directly between agree and disagree.

Chris:
Is this flamebait for the interviewee or what? :) I won't bite. Your question seems to start halfway through your rant, so I will start there.

You shouldn't feel sorry for me. I committed crimes that I shouldn't have committed. I stole from innocent companies and now I am feeling the repercussions. I am not asking for pity nor am I looking to be put up on a pedestal for what I have done. I am simply here to tell people what happened and that it can happen to anyone who takes part in this type of thing.

Addendum:

My nickname wasn't mentioned when the call for questions was posted, I guess I forgot to tell Robin. I was known as bigrar, BiGrAr on irc. If anyone wants to ask any questions besides the ones I have answered, you can send me email at nospam@rarcom.com. Actually you can take a look at my website as well, at www.rarcom.com (my hosting company is going to kill me). I am setting up a service there called the "Free Software Mirror Project". Through this site, I hope to start a huge mirror system for free software. When these questions are posted to slashdot, I am going to make the URL all text, so as to not completely slashdot my hosters. The mirror system is unique because it will work the same way the warez scene works. with couriers, suppliers, etc. Drop me a line if you possibly want to help me out with this.

Thanks,

- Chris

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Former DrinkOrDie Member Chris Tresco Answers

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