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FBI Raids Homes and Seizes Bandwidth Pirates' PCs 815

Saturated Subnet writes "Recently in Toledo, OH FBI agents and a local police task force raided 13 residence and seized 23 computers. Some users of the local cable broadband provider had uncapped their cable modems." It appears to be a smaller ISP, and the article says these 23 people cost them a quarter of a million bucks. Who has time to look at $10,800 worth of pr0n?
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FBI Raids Homes and Seizes Bandwidth Pirates' PCs

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  • by dinivin ( 444905 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @10:00AM (#3778648)
    I keep thinking of the Simposn's episode where Homer eats the "All you can eat" fish fry out of business and gets hauled into court.

    Too bad you have it completely backwards... He didn't eat them out of business. They stopped feeding him after a while so he sued them.

  • by anthony_dipierro ( 543308 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @10:11AM (#3778757) Journal

    I am not an expert on law, however it was my impression that the only thing happening here was the operation of a device outside of a contract.

    Nope [].

    No person shall intercept or receive or assist in intercepting or receiving any communications service offered over a cable system, unless specifically authorized to do so by a cable operator or as may otherwise be specifically authorized by law.
  • Re:Fraud (Score:5, Informative)

    by anthony_dipierro ( 543308 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @10:21AM (#3778836) Journal

    Some people may be wondering why the FBI was involved with this. The answer is simple. This constitutes fraud.

    Are you sure it's not 47 U.S.C. 553 []?

  • by icedivr ( 168266 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @10:23AM (#3778855)
    It took some digging but I found the link to their TOS (PDF) click here []
  • Ideally... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Junta ( 36770 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @10:24AM (#3778867)
    Ideally the government wouldn't have been involved at all, but instead have the parties settle it among themselves. However, I guess after having to deal with so many people trying this more drastic, newsworthy measures need be taken to let users know they mean business and not to try this for kicks. If the only punishment is a cancellation of service, a lot of people will try and get permanently banned, a fate which results ultimately in the ISP not getting money from that user who might have behaved himself if he thought he had more to lose than his account.

    All this said, I'm not sure why this is FBI jurisdiction rather than local law enforcement agency. I suppose the main body of the ISP is proabably not in the same state, but you would think they would operate through their local presence. Of course, the FBI is more newsworthy than local police.

    At this stage they say they have not charged anyone with anything, but confiscated systems for evidence. My bet is that the systems will be returned and charges never filed. This is more of a scare tactic. Really scare the perpetrators, and spread more awareness of the seriousness of the issue among the people. In the end they will let them off, making the company look better while acheiving the wider scare they wanted. They really have nothing to gain by punishing those individuals except bad publicity.

    This whole scenario just goes to demonstrate that cable providers as a whole went into the ISP business unprepared with a lack of understanding of the problems an ISP faces. Routers should cap this stuff, not endstations, and their network infrastructure has proved in many cases to crumble under the stress, kind of like what happened when AOL first offered unlimited time plans. Now cable companies are more and more going to charge for extra bandwidth because they have been unable to figure out how to regulate network usage from a technical perspective without losing their peak rates. The Telco companies with DSL were not able to match the peak rate of cable modem, but now with the improvement of DSL technology and the saturation of both types of networks, DSL has proven to frequently provide more consistant, reliable service, even if peak DSL throughput is not equal to cable, the realistic throughput is on average better than Cable.

    Now to see if cable companies can mature as ISPs, or if DSL will come to dominate in the coming years.
  • by nosphalot ( 547806 ) <nosphalot@nosphalo t . com> on Thursday June 27, 2002 @10:31AM (#3778920) Homepage
    Just to clarify on thing, unless you are ticketed by a state or federal officier, i.e. State Trooper, speeding is a civil offense. You are not charged with a criminal offense, the municipality merely decides to sue you for a small fee. Makes it fun to fight, since "beyond a resonable doubt" changes to "beyond a preponderence of doubt", or in other words you only need to be most likely guilty.

    Now for those of you who plan to point it out, excessive speeding is usually charged as reckless endangerment which is a crime, and hence will go on your criminal record, and will likely get you jail time.

  • by shakah ( 78118 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @10:33AM (#3778946)
    Breech of contract is illegal
    In the sense in which you probably used it, it might be illegal, but it might not be criminally punishable.

    One way to look at contracts is that both sides will uphold their end as long as it is in their best interests to do so. From that you can infer that people will breech a contract when the monetary penalty they can expect to incur if they breech (e.g. by losing in a subsequent lawsuit) is less than that which they can gain by breeching. That's why most contracts include monetary penalties (or other remedies) for breech from the start.

  • Re:TOS (Score:2, Informative)

    by titaniumball2000 ( 231047 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @11:04AM (#3779188)
    Look further at the Subscription Agreement (para. 9):

    I am not authorized to tamper with, attempt to repair, or alter any property of Buckeye. If my use or modification of hardware, software, or equipment supplied by Buckeye requires a visit to my home for repair or correction, a charge may apply. I am responsible for all costs incurred by Buckeye arising from a violation of this paragraph by me or by anyone who uses the Service supplied to me.

    Wouldn't the penalties for violating the agreement be civil not criminal? If so why does the FBI get involved?
  • by Saturated Subnet ( 588669 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @11:04AM (#3779192)
    I submitted this story. I too live in toledo. Kind of funny that they Blade (newspaper) owns the ISP. Somebody steps out of line and BOOM. FBI, full press coverage. Typical of the blade
  • by Oliver Wendell Jones ( 158103 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @11:21AM (#3779310)
    will the cops come and take all my phones away?

    My brother was convicted of credit card fraud. He was using his Commodore 64 to dial into credit reporting companies and look up people's credit history and then using that information to order stuff over the phone.

    The police came to our house and took his computer, floppy drive, modem, hundreds of floppy disks, TV he used as a monitor, phone that was plugged into the modem, phone cable that was connected between the modem and the wall, an MPS-801 dot matrix printer, an old Vic-20 computer that was in the closet, all the game cartridges for the Vic-20, an ancient 300 baud portable terminal that was in the closet, a cordless phones that was in the closet, a cordless phone that was in *my* bedroom, and more.

    Out of all that, we got the TV set back. Nothing else.

    The computer equipment was donated to the local zoo and the rest was sold at a police auction we were never notified of.

    Don't assume that the police will only take items related to the case or that you'll ever see them again if they do.
  • by Gigs ( 127327 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @11:34AM (#3779392) Homepage Journal
    Do you know how to uncap a modem? Do you know that it requires a computer to do it? I won't go in to the details as I work for a cable modem provider... but the modem must get a new configuration from somewhere that allows it to use more bandwidth. So yes they would need to seize the computers for evidence of the crime.
  • by tHiNk411 ( 398161 ) <chris AT think411 DOT com> on Thursday June 27, 2002 @11:40AM (#3779456) Homepage Journal
    There is evidence on them, there has to be a server the spoofs the tftp ip of the cable company and serves the cable modem a fake docsis file. This can be done relatively easy with motorola surfboard modems.
  • Re:TOS (Score:2, Informative)

    by MadMoonie ( 223264 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @11:48AM (#3779522)
    The parent to your reply explains why the penalties are criminal:

    (From the TOS)

    "In addition, federal and state laws prohibit the possession, use, or attempted use of any equipment to receive any Buckeye services except as expressly provided by the Subscription Agreement."

    Quite simply, the FBI came because they suspected a federal law that prohibits the unauthorized use of cable services was broken. It was likely originally written to prevent people from getting free HBO with a cracked converter box, but it makes sense to me that it should apply here, too.

    And a bit off-topic, but apparently unlike a lot of people here, I'm glad that the FBI continues to investigate non-terror related crimes. That's what they're there for.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 27, 2002 @11:55AM (#3779579)
    I would agree that the letter of their law (the SLA, user agreement, ect) definitely would spell out their bandwidth cap, proper usage, ect and that these poor saps were doing wrong.

    Forget the SLA and other agreements. Modifying cable equipment to cable steal service is a felony under federal law.

    Many television pirates have found this out and have enjoyed a nice stay in jail -- it was only a matter of time until the internet pirates got the same treatment.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 27, 2002 @11:58AM (#3779601)
    The feds were involved because nation's communications infrastructure is mostly federally managed.

    Here's a bit of a relevant federal law from (our pals) the cable lobbiests:
  • by kaustik ( 574490 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @11:59AM (#3779610)
    I believe that the relevant information on the computers would be the e-mail correspondences between the accused telling each other how they accomplished this. The article mentions something like that.
  • by fdisk3hs ( 513270 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @12:25PM (#3779800) Homepage
    Here is their Editorial Forum [http] ...
  • by pjrc ( 134994 ) <> on Thursday June 27, 2002 @12:32PM (#3779864) Homepage Journal
    According to the article, 13 homes (23 machines) consumed so much bandwidth that it cost the ISP 1/4 million dollars. That's gotta be the biggest load of bullshit I've heard in a long time.

    If each contributed equally, that's $19230 each in bandwidth. $19k buys a lot of bandwitdh... much more than a single home could potentially use, even over many months. For example, this budgetary pricing for Verio [] (a backbone provider) shows that the monthly charge for a 155 Mbit/sec OC-3 line is somewhere around $44k per month.

    For that 13 users to have consumed $250k of bandwidth over a period of one year, the "bandwidth cost" would have been equivilant to using one half of a 155 Mbps/sec OC-3 line. Even if all 13 contributed equally, I doubt each of them sustained a 5.7 Mbit/sec stream of data for a whole year! Cable service can rarely run at this speed, and many small groups of houses (like mine) are connected by a 1.2 Mbit/sec line (I saw the At&T tech when he was installing our neighborhood's hub a few months ago). If you consider the "theft" to have occured from February (when "cable officials" claim they first became aware of the situation) until today, that's just 5 months for a "loss" of $50,000 dollars worth of bandwidth each month... equivilant to just 13 users consuming the entire bandwitdh of an OC-3! Even to a someone who has no idea what kind of bandwitdh $250,000 dollars buys, it simply defies imagination that 13 home users would normally consume $50 to $100 per month, could somehow "steal" 1/4 million dollars. It's as rediculous as a claiming someone robbed a 7-11 store and stole 1/4 million dollars from the cash register.

    I wonder if it ever occured to Christina Hall or Mark Reiter to ask Paul Shryock how Buckeye figured these 13 home users "stole" such a massive amount. Even if it's larger group of users, it's still an absurd claim. Saddly, they were probably fed a press release with lots of "sound bites", and they threw this scare-tactic story together without even the slighest questioning and investigatave journalism into such an absurd claim.

    One thing is for certain... Buckeye CableSystem certainly didn't take a loss of $250,000. If they really were losing that much money, they certainly would have contacted the "others [that] were using a lot". No ISP these days (except perhaps AOL) can afford to take a $250,000 loss and just sit back for five months and wait for the cops to investigage and bust a dozen users.

  • 2600 is l337 (Score:3, Informative)

    by WndrBr3d ( 219963 ) on Thursday June 27, 2002 @01:00PM (#3780063) Homepage Journal
    Anyone else find it amusing that also in this latest issue of 2600 they have an article on how to uncap your cable modem bandwidth ?? ;-)
  • by Meleschi ( 4399 ) <meleschi&gmail,com> on Thursday June 27, 2002 @01:27PM (#3780251) Homepage Journal
    I know I'm going to get modded down for this but..

    A T3 and an OC3 are not even in the same class..


    OC3=155 MB/s.

    And yes, OC# can be provisioned on a per GB basis, whereas T1's and T3 usually are not.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 27, 2002 @04:30PM (#3781760)
    One major, major mistake in your calculation other than what you calculated. ISPs, when they calculate what you should pay them per month, calculate that the *average* user doesn't use nearly that much bandwidth. Balance out the people who use way too little bandwidth, and the people who use way too much bandwidth, and it evens out. They then charge you that price. If you've ever had to actually buy raw, pure, bandwidth, it's insanely expensive. You have to calculate it at $45 for maybe 4-10 hours per home on average going at full blast per month (believe me, most people who don't go to slashdot don't use a whole lot of bandwidth) and multiply from there. You'll quickly see how they got a quarter of a million. You can easily verify this by going to one of the hundreds of T1 and T3 providers out there and getting a quote. There wouldn't be hundreds of them if you could get bandwidth as dirt cheap as you calculated.

The intelligence of any discussion diminishes with the square of the number of participants. -- Adam Walinsky