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Hardware Hacking Security The Courts Your Rights Online Build

Feds Bust Cable Modem Hacker 658

Several readers noted the indictment of hardware hacker Ryan Harris, known as DerEngel. Harris wrote the 2006 book Hacking the Cable Modem, explaining how to get upgraded speed or even free Internet service by bypassing the firmware locks on Motorola Surfboard modems. He has run a profitable business at tcniso.net since 2003, selling unlocked cable modems. (The site is now offline.) Harris has been charged with conspiracy, aiding and abetting computer intrusion, and wire fraud. Wired quotes Harris's reaction: "I read the indictment — it's complete bull****. I'll tell you right now I'm not going to plead guilty."
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Feds Bust Cable Modem Hacker

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  • by Vinegar Joe ( 998110 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @12:24AM (#29959734)

    Now when are they going to get around to catching Osama?

    • by ILuvRamen ( 1026668 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @12:32AM (#29959794)
      Probably as soon as he tries to steal broadband lol. That or if he changes his name to Osama Bin Hackin.
    • by mister_playboy ( 1474163 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @12:47AM (#29959914)

      Who cares? The powers our government have assumed for themselves in the name of "fighting the War on Terrorism" won't be given up even if they catch "Terrorist #1" Osama.

      Osama is more useful to power-hungry US politicians when he is free to roam than dead or captured.

    • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @08:10AM (#29962078)

      Ok for one, the FBI is not the agency that would be going after Osama. The FBI is the federal government's primary police force. As a police force, they are concerned with domestic matters. They deal with things inside the US. They do not chase people in other countries, they don't have any jurisdiction there. To the extent they operate at all in foreign countries, it is as legal attaches and such to give advice and support to local law enforcement.

      Second, while this may be an alien concept to single-minded geeks, people and most especially organizations/agencies can and do work on more than one thing at one. Just because a group is working on X does not mean they cannot also be working on Y. You want this, particularly in the case of law enforcement. I mean my local police force has unsolved murders, a couple quite old. However I do not want them devoting 100% of their assets to that. I am glad they also spend time looking at current burglaries, assaults, and even simple things like directing traffic when a traffic light breaks. Just because there's an open murder case doesn't mean I want them ignoring all their other duties.

      Finally, it may amaze you to learn this, but there are plenty of places hostile to America that someone might hide. When the people there don't like the US, and when it is completely and totally outside of the US's jurisdiction, it makes it real hard to do anything there. It isn't as though Bin Laden (if he's even still alive, guy may well have died of kidney failure) is sitting in a house in New York. He's hiding in a Muslim area in a country that doesn't much care for the US, and probably who's central government doesn't have good control of things. Can't just walk over there with an arrest warrant.

  • What!? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sam0737 ( 648914 ) <sam AT chowchi DOT com> on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @12:25AM (#29959748)

    I didn't RTFA. If I read the summary right, ya may be he can be charged with DMCA, Copyright violation or those stuff .But "conspiracy, aiding and abetting computer intrusion, and wire fraud"? WTF is that!

    It's like charging gunmaker with murder.

    • Re:What!? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @12:42AM (#29959870)

      It's called "padding the charges to try to force a plea deal", and it's one of the reasons our justice system is so fucked up.

      Thousands of people plead guilty to shit they didn't do [post-gazette.com] each year, because they're offered the "reasonable" alternative - accept a jail sentence of X amount, OR get 5x the time and financially ruined and never be able to work again because they had the "temerity" to protest their innocence [concurringopinions.com].

      Welcome to America. "Justice" means jack shit here.

      • Re:What!? (Score:5, Informative)

        by WilliamX ( 22300 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @01:15AM (#29960118)
        A shoplifter is told that the court will look positively on his cooperation after being arested, and then is asked did he intend to steal the item(s) when he entered the store, or did he decide to steal them once inside the store.

        He admits he went there to steal the item.

        Petting theft just turned into Felony Commercial Burglary (Burglary being defined in California Penal Code as entering a premises with the intent to commit larceny).

        Will it get pled down? Now he HAS to plea it down and take whatever they offer to avoid a felony record.

        Saw this exact scenario play out when a college student was busted stealing a $20 CD.

        • Re:What!? (Score:5, Informative)

          by Moryath ( 553296 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @01:22AM (#29960152)

          And that's a great example of why you should never talk to the cops [youtube.com]. EVER. [youtube.com]

          It's not their job to be fair. It's their job to get you to say something incriminating. Functionally, it's the cops' job to "aid and abet" the prosecutors' office in getting innocent people convicted.

          Anyone who says different, is a clueless idealistic moron. You have the 5th amendment right to keep your mouth shut for a reason: NEVER say anything to the cops.

          • story (Score:4, Interesting)

            by jDeepbeep ( 913892 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @11:12AM (#29963608)

            And that's a great example of why you should never talk to the cops [youtube.com]. EVER. [youtube.com]

            It's not their job to be fair. It's their job to get you to say something incriminating. Functionally, it's the cops' job to "aid and abet" the prosecutors' office in getting innocent people convicted.

            Anyone who says different, is a clueless idealistic moron. You have the 5th amendment right to keep your mouth shut for a reason: NEVER say anything to the cops.

            Just last week, I had my trial before a judge for a very borderline DWI where I had blown a .08. To describe the background, after being arrested and being brought to the station, over one year ago, the officers asked if I would agree to answer questions. I told them I would not do so without an attorney present. They asked two more times, and made it sound as if I was about to get in huge trouble if I had the audacity to invoke my rights. I denied to answer questions each of those times. What is interesting is that the fact I was alert enough to both understand my rights, and to practice them, was the final straw and indicator to the judge that I was not both physically and mentally impaired. I was found not guilty.

      • Re:What!? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by gordguide ( 307383 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @01:38AM (#29960268)

        I've always been struck by the system of justice in the US where, if you plead guilty, you "save the state the cost of a trial".

        In most countries where the law is based on English Common Law (Canada, UK, Australia, etc) there is always a trial, to establish the facts of the case, to establish the exact culpability of the accused, to determine the extenuating circumstances. There is always a pre-sentence report, often a psychological assessment, etc. There is no procedural difference between a case where the defendant pleads guilty and where he pleads not guilty, and the defendant can change his plea at almost any stage of the trial. Occasionally, a judge will refuse to accept a Guilty plea from the defendant, insisting he wait until the evidence has been presented.

        There are no misdemeanor options to fall back on; everything is the equivalent of a felony (precisely, they are all Criminal convictions, which the US considers equivalent to Felony convictions when assessing the seriousness of a record for a potential visitor, immigrant, etc). A conviction of the charge of theft of a single CD is a Criminal Code conviction; there are no other options.

        The only times when you can plead guilty and avoid a trial is when the charge truly is a misdemeanor; eg traffic court.

        This eliminates the incentive to create a system of law as exists in the US, with one or more applicable charges that carry huge penalties, along with a cascade of ever lesser charges and classes of charges, with corresponding lesser maximum penalties, which are then used (as you point out) to elicit guilty pleas.

        It also insures that you have an opportunity to defend yourself without onerous implications should you not prevail, for whatever reason.

        The truly innocent are placed in a very difficult position under the standard practices of US law (and standard procedures of prosecutors to elicit convictions).

        • Re:What!? (Score:4, Informative)

          by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara@hudson.barbara-hudson@com> on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @02:38AM (#29960618) Journal

          There is always a pre-sentence report, often a psychological assessment, etc. There is no procedural difference between a case where the defendant pleads guilty and where he pleads not guilty, and the defendant can change his plea at almost any stage of the trial. Occasionally, a judge will refuse to accept a Guilty plea from the defendant, insisting he wait until the evidence has been presented.

          Nice try, but not really accurate. In cases of summary convictions, there are no pre-sentencing reports, no psych assessment, etc. Also, there is no right to trial by jury for summary offences.

          Canada has plenty of these dual-mode or hybrid offences, where the person can be charged for the same crime either by summary procedure (less serious) or by indictment (more serious).

          Here's the Federal Prosecution Service Handbook [justice.gc.ca].

          19.2 Crown Elections in Dual Procedure Offences

          In dual procedure offences, Crown counsel has the discretion to proceed by summary conviction or indictment. This discretion allows Crown counsel the flexibility of taking the specific circumstances of a case into account to ensure that in each case the interests of justice, including the public's interest in the effective enforcement of the criminal law, are best served.

          19.2.1 Statement of Policy

          When deciding whether to proceed summarily or by indictment, Crown counsel shall examine the circumstances surrounding the offence and the background of the accused. The following factors are of particular importance:

          • whether the facts alleged make the offence a serious one;
          • whether the accused has a lengthy criminal record or a record of criminal convictions for similar types of offences;
          • the sentence that will be recommended by Crown counsel in the event of a conviction;
          • the effect that having to testify at both a preliminary inquiry and a trial may have on victims or witnesses (if procedure by indictment is chosen, this may lead to the preferral of a direct indictment; and
          • whether it would not be in the public interest to have a trial by jury.

          If the accused is charged with a number of offences arising out of the same transaction, Crown counsel should consider entering elections that avoid a multiplicity of litigation. Such a course may benefit the accused, by reducing his or her court appearances, as well as serving the interests of the administration of justice. This approach will be beneficial not only at the trial level, but also in the event of an appeal.

          Where, based on the above criteria, Crown counsel would normally elect to proceed summarily but the limitation period for a summary proceeding has expired, Crown counsel should not elect to proceed by indictment unless:

          • the accused contributed significantly to the delay;
          • the investigative agency acted with due diligence but the investigation continued beyond the limitation period because of the complexity of the case;
          • the particular circumstances of the offence did not come to light until shortly before or at some time after the limitation period expired, and the offence is serious;
          • the accused has refused to give consent, pursuant to s. 786 of the Criminal Code, to have the matter proceed by summary conviction; or
          • the public interest otherwise warrants prosecution

          It's only in trials by indictment that the defendant has the right to choose either a trial by judge and jury, or judge alone, so there are definitely options for how to proceed, for both the prosecution and the defence, and there's just as much bargaining going on as in the US. Bargaining, for example, to being charged via summation rather than indictment, in return for a guilty plea, and a lesser range of penalties (summary convictions are like "punishment lite"). Same as plea bargaining anywhere else.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by gordguide ( 307383 )

            I thank you for replying with a cut-and-paste summary of Canadian law. Please continue; I will look forward to your summaries of the UK law, and the Australian law, and the other "Commonwealth Countries" I wrote of in my post, along with your learned experiences as to what, exactly, one can expect by way of assessments and pre-sentence reports.

            I've been to many a case where the Crown proceeded by Summary Conviction. Pre-sentence reports, psychiatric assessments, and the like are common. Only last week a per

            • Re:What!? (Score:4, Interesting)

              by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara@hudson.barbara-hudson@com> on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @04:15AM (#29961062) Journal

              1. You specified common law. Most of Canada is common law, and my post disproves that what you said applies to "common law" generically.

              2. Why not look at the plea bargain in the Roman Polanski affair if you want something that doesn't pass the smell test?

              BTW, the maximum sentence for sexual assault [rapereliefshelter.bc.ca] when tried as a misdemeanor in Canada is $2,000 + 6 months. The minimum is an absolute discharge. Aggravated sexual assault, on the other hand, can get you life.

              To put this in context, we just gave a life sentence [thestar.com] to a genocidal nutbar from another country who thought that Canada would be a safe place for him.

              'Kill, rape and pillage': Rwandan gets life in jail'
              Published On Fri Oct 30 2009

              MONTREAL-In sentencing genocidal killer Désiré Munyaneza to the harshest penalty possible, Quebec Superior Court Justice André Denis quoted an ancient philosopher who insisted that even when everyone else is going one way, you can always go another.

              "Many Rwandans of all ethnicities, as the proof showed, behaved courageously during the genocide, often paying the price with their lives," said Denis. "The accused, an educated and privileged man, chose to kill, rape and pillage, in the name of supremacy of his ethnic group."

              Handing down a sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years, as Munyaneza stood unmoved, the judge added, "Each time a man affirms to belong to a superior race, a chosen people, humanity is in danger."

              Munyaneza, known as "Scarface" to his victims, is the first person to be convicted under Canada's Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act. The 42-year-old father of two will serve his sentence in Canada.

              It's a case watched closely by legal observers because of the implications it could have for similar cases here and abroad and even, some say, for preventing such tragedies in the first place.

              Denis found Munyaneza guilty last May of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity during the 1994 Rwandan genocide that saw the Hutu-led extermination of hundreds of thousands of people, primarily ethnic Tutsis.

              A businessman in his home city of Butare, Rwanda, Munyaneza came from a well-known bourgeois family and had a master's degree in economics.

              During the genocide he also acted as a leader among the brutal Interahamwe militia.

              Denis found that Munyaneza, a failed refugee claimant to Canada who was arrested at his home in Toronto in 2005, used his access to vehicles to transport innocent Tutsi to their deaths. He looted Tutsi businesses. He murdered four Tutsi in a store, saying, "All Tutsi must die."

              He called them "vermin."

              He even used sticks to beat to death children who were tied up in sacks, the judge found.

              The defence is appealing the verdict, but a hearing before the Quebec Court of Appeal isn't likely until next year and both sides agree the case will ultimately wind up before the Supreme Court of Canada.

              "We've got what we believe to be a pretty strong appeal," defence lawyer Richard Perras said outside the courtroom.

              The trial was extraordinary in that it took nearly two years and even travelled to Butare to hear witnesses.

              The total cost reportedly reached $4 million.

              Munyaneza's defence contended much of the evidence was faulty, witnesses were hazy on dates, and that many couldn't identify his prominent facial scar.

              But Denis said he believed the prosecution's witnesses, noting Thursday that Munyaneza's witnesses often denied there was even a genocide.

              "We know that to deny a genocide is to kill the victims a second time," Denis admonished.

              Jayne Stoyles, executive director of the Ottawa-based Canadian Centre for International Justice, said in an interview that the sentence "se

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by pete6677 ( 681676 )

        Neither of these stories had any examples of people who were truly innocent but forced to plead guilty. Prisons are full of people who say they are innocent, yet the vast majority of them are in fact guilty. I'm not saying no innocent person has ever been coerced into pleading to something they didn't do, but there was no evidence of it in your examples. Many inmates who pled guilty claimed to have done so despite being innocent, but hardly ever is that the case. Criminals lie quite often, especially about

    • Re:What!? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by NeumannCons ( 798322 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @01:01AM (#29960010) Homepage
      I did RTFA. His biggest misstep that brought attention to his actions was running a company that sold uncapped and hardware modded modems. He sold a couple to undercover feds. That was a Bad Idea. Selling hacked equipment that is designed to overcome preset bandwidth limits or provide unauthorized (free) service by cloning mac addresses of other authorized modems seems like "aiding and abetting". Running uncapped modems on Comcast's network would also seem like wire fraud (fraudulent activity involving electronic equipemnt) to me.

      Comcast owns their network and sells you access based on bandwidth. More bandwidth costs more. If you find a way to circumvent their bandwidth limits, you are breaking your agreement with them (as well as violating the DMCA). Modding your own cable modem and running it on your own cable network is ok. Running it on someone elses is not.

      Hacking to gain knowledge/enlightenment is one thing. Using that knowledge to steal service is uncool.
      • Re:What!? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by shentino ( 1139071 ) <shentino@gmail.com> on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @01:23AM (#29960158)

        What intrigues me is the fact that cable co's are trusting END USER EQUIPMENT to enforce limits that should be imposed at their own network ingress.

        Besides, what if someone creates a DOCSIS compliant device of their own and hooks it up to the cable network? Considering how eager companies are to pounce for it, you're almost certain to run afoul of a few patents in the process, but you're clear in copyright, and hence immune to the DMCA as well, since the only copyright involved would be your own.

        Knowingly and willfully taking more bandwidth than you've paid for is fraud and should be treated as such. Everything else is bullshit.

  • Welcome to the DMCA (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MaerD ( 954222 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @12:25AM (#29959754)
    Welcome to the DMCA, the same nonsense that blocks you from selling mod chips. Did you really expect to "circumvent" the locks that cable companies put in place and nothing was going to happen?

    This is why we've been complaining about the DMCA since '98, and why Alan Cox won't set foot in this country. Heck, I'm suprised it's legal to hook up our own equipment to the cable networks at all. Did you get that PC from comcast? No?
    • by MobileC ( 83699 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @01:04AM (#29960050) Homepage

      What has the DMCA got to do with this case?

    • Theft of Services (Score:3, Informative)

      by westlake ( 615356 )

      Did you really expect to "circumvent" the locks that cable companies put in place and nothing was going to happen?

      Did you expect your cable TV and Internet service to be free before the DMCA?

      165.15 Theft of services.
      A person is guilty of theft of services when:

      4. With intent to avoid payment by himself or another person of the lawful charge for any telecommunications service, including, without
      limitation, cable television service, ...., telegraph or telephone servi

  • by the_humeister ( 922869 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @12:31AM (#29959788)

    After reading the article (yeah, I'm new here), he was selling modems and it appears he wasn't moderating the forums properly. People were discussing how to steal other people's connections on their forums.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mysidia ( 191772 )

      So failing to "properly moderate" your forums is a criminal offense now?

      Even slashdot has anonymous cowards, and I doubt they'd delete posts discussing such matters, unless ordered to (by DMCA letter or similar), even if the score was -1, same difference....

  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @12:35AM (#29959806) Homepage

    Gun sellers have powerful lobbyists on their payroll guaranteeing that the government will not interfere with their profits.

  • by vikstar ( 615372 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @12:37AM (#29959826) Journal

    "They’re filling in their own blanks."

    Is this a way to haggle up the punishment? Make the defense spend valuable time worrying about completely bogus prosecution claims, and it might neglect other more legitimate claims.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @01:24AM (#29960166)

    I looked over the article, and now I'm curious. The Slashdot crowd usually sides with the techie on incidents like this, but is it really justified here? The popular analogy here is that it's akin to charging gun manufacturers with murder. Guns have legitimate uses, such as hunting, or protection. What legitimate use does a modem hacked/modified to access an ISP's services without permission have? A better analogy here would be a gun manufacturer who sells a gun, a kit to turn the gun into an automatic weapon, and detailed instructions on how to get past the security of a specific bank. You can argue that the gun wasn't sold with the intent to facilitate a robbery, but you can't do it with a straight face.

    Of course, I'm open-minded, so someone prove me wrong - tell me what legitimate uses these modified modems have. (Caveat: the use Harris suggested in the article won't fly, unless you can give some very good reasons as to why an ISP wouldn't simply use their own diagnostic gear.)

  • by Antique Geekmeister ( 740220 ) on Tuesday November 03, 2009 @01:40AM (#29960278)

    If you look back to the old David LaMacchia case, the FBI tried to convict someone running a secretive FSP site on school computers of conspiracy and software theft. It was obvious he was guilty as sin at running a pirate software site, but because he received no money for it (merely stole school resources of bandwidth and computer time), they failed miserably to convict him.

    This idiot, according to the FBI, asked on a bulletin board for the necessary MAC addresses for the Phoenix Arizona area. That was inviting illegal behavior. This is why I don't even make _jokes_ like that about pirating software or computer cracking: because I've explained to people how easy it is to do, I have to keep my nose clean lest someone testify against me.

"We don't care. We don't have to. We're the Phone Company."