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FBI reportedly hunting Adrian Lamo

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FBI agents armed with a federal arrest warrant out of New York were searching for Adrian Lamo Thursday, according to the hacker and his mother.

Two agents visited the home of Lamo's parents, Mario and Mary Lamo, near Sacramento, California, Thursday afternoon, says Mary Lamo. "They wouldn't tell us anything but that they had an arrest warrant and they wanted to come in," she adds.

When she demurred, the agents vowed to return with a search warrant, and have been overtly watching the house from parked cars ever since, she says. "They followed me when I went out, so they're not hiding it."

Bureau spokespersons could not be reached after hours Thursday.

Lamo frequently stays at his parents' home, but he was not there at the time of the FBI's visit, and has not returned since. His mother contacted the Federal Public Defender's office in Sacramento, which has agreed to handle his surrender, she says.

In a telephone interview, Lamo said he was in California, but does not plan to turn himself in until after conferring with the attorney. The hacker was quick-witted and seemingly in good humor, with only a trace of nervousness in his voice. He quipped about the proper etiquette of being arrested by the FBI, and suggested jokingly that SecurityFocus should purchase the publication rights to a favorite photo. He said he was in the company of a camera crew producing a television documentary on hackers.

"I have always said that actions have consequences, and this is something that I was always aware might happen," said Lamo. "I don't intend to deny anything that I have done, but I do intend to defend myself vigorously."

The 22-year-old Lamo has become famous for publicly exposing gaping security holes at large corporations, then voluntarily helping the companies fix the vulnerabilities he exploited -- sometimes visiting their offices or signing non-disclosure agreements in the process.

Until now, his cooperation and transparency have kept him from being prosecuted. Lamo's hacked Excite@Home, Yahoo, Blogger, and other companies, usually using nothing more than an ordinary Web browser. Some companies have even professed gratitude for his efforts: In December, 2001, Lamo was praised by communications giant WorldCom after he discovered, then helped close, security holes in their intranet that threatened to expose the private networks of Bank of America, CitiCorp, JP Morgan, and others.

Lamo believes the arrest warrant is for his most high-profile hack. Early last year he penetrated the New York Times, after a two-minute scan turned up seven misconfigured proxy servers acting as doorways between the public Internet and the Times private intranet, making the latter accessible to anyone capable of properly configuring their Web browser.

Once inside, Lamo exploited weaknesses in the Times password policies to broaden his access, eventually browsing such disparate information as the names and Social Security numbers of the paper's employees, logs of home delivery customers' stop and start orders, instructions and computer dial-ups for stringers to file stories, lists of contacts used by the Metro and Business desks, and the "WireWatch" keywords particular reporters had selected for monitoring wire services.

He also accessed a database of 3,000 contributors to the Times op-ed page, containing such information as the social security numbers for former U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler, Democratic operative James Carville, ex-NSA chief Bobby Inman, Nannygate veteran Zoe Baird, former secretary of state James Baker, Internet policy thinker Larry Lessig, and thespian activist Robert Redford. Entries with home telephone numbers include Lawrence Walsh, William F. Buckley Jr., Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Rush Limbaugh, Vint Cerf, Warren Beatty and former president Jimmy Carter.

In February, 2002, Lamo told the Times of their vulnerability through a SecurityFocus reporter. But this time, no one was grateful, and by May federal prosecutors in New York had begun an investigation.

"I think this is unsporting of the New York Times," Lamo said Thursday.

Lamo's mother said she has no opinion on her son's exploits. She's just worried about him.

"I don't really know much of anything about computers," says Mary Lamo. "He's my son. Right now, all I can worry about is how I can help him."

"I hope there will be a time when Adrian can do positive things that everyone agrees are positive," she adds.

Copyright © 2003,

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