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Michigan Wi-Fi hackers ‘try to steal credit card details’

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Federal officials this week accused a third Michigan man of conspiring to steal credit card numbers from the Lowe's chain of home improvement stores by taking advantage of an unsecured wi-fi network at store in suburban Detroit.

The new defendant, Brian Salcedo, 20, was named by the original suspects, Paul Timmins, 22, and Adam Botbyl, 20, in an FBI interview following their arrest, according to a government affidavit filed in the case.

All three men were indicted Wednesday in a federal court in North Carolina, where Lowe's corporate headquarters is based. They're charged with conspiracy, computer fraud, wire fraud, and possession of unauthorized access devices. Timmins and Botbyl are free on $10,000 bail each. Salcedo is in jail - a federal judge in Michigan ordered him held without bail as a flight risk, and he's expected to be transported in custody to Charlotte, North Carolina, where he'll be held in a local county jail pending trial, according to prosecutor Matthew Martens.

In 2000, as a juvenile, Salcedo was one of the first to be charged under Michigan's state computer crime law, for allegedly hacking a local ISP. The disposition of the case not unknown.

According to statements provided by Timmins and Botbyl following their November 10th arrest, as recounted in the FBI affidavit, the pair first stumbled across the unsecured wireless network at the Southfield, Michigan Lowe's last spring, while "driving around with laptop computers looking for wireless Internet connections," ie. wardriving. The two said they did nothing malicious with the network at that time.

Stakeout

It was six months later - Botbyl allegedly admitted to agents - that Botbyl and his friend Salcedo hatched a plan to use the network to steal credit card numbers from the hardware chain, and together they went to work from the parking lot of the vulnerable store using Botbyl's Pontiac Grand Prix as an office, the affidavit says.

According to the indictment, the hackers used the wireless network to route through Lowe's corporate data center in North Carolina and connect to the local networks at stores around the country. At two of the stores - in Long Beach, California and Gainseville, Florida - they modified a proprietary piece of software called "tcpcredit" that Lowe's uses to process credit card transactions, building in a virtual wiretap that would store customer's credit card numbers where the hackers could retrieve them later.

Botbyl's confession was corroborated by Timmins, according to the FBI. The statements suggest that Timmins' involvement was limited to providing the other two hackers with an 802.11b card, and having knowledge of what his associates were up to. But all three men are charged in each count of the indictment.

The indictment does not explicitly repeat an allegation in the original Michigan criminal complaint asserting that point of sale terminals in the Long Beach store became inoperable for a time as a result of the intrusions. Reached by phone, the manager of the store said he's not familiar with such an outage. "I don't know anything about it, and I don't think anybody in my store has mentioned it," said manager Kevin Savage.

Timmins works as a networking specialist for a Michigan software company; Botbyl is a student at the ITT Technical Institute. The pair are known online as "noweb4u" and "itszer0" respectively, and are part of the Michigan 2600 hacker scene - an informal collection of technology aficionados.

The men were arrested after an FBI stakeout spotted Botbyl, and a man agents believed to be Timmins, parked outside the Lowe's, typing on laptop computers.

The Lowe's wi-fi system was installed to allow scanners and telephones to connect to the store's network without the burden of cables, according to the indictment.

Copyright © 2003,

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