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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

A Los Angeles man accused of using other people's Wi-Fi networks to send thousands of unsolicited adult-themed emails has entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors in a case filed under the criminal provisions of the federal CAN SPAM Act, officials confirmed Friday.

Nicholas Tombros, 37, was scheduled to enter a guilty plea Friday afternoon in federal court in Los Angeles, but the hearing was abandoned when judge Percy Anderson learned the defense attorney who'd signed off on the deal had been hospitalized and could not appear in court. "[Tombros] said that he wanted to take some time, so the judge scheduled us for a status conference in two weeks," says assistant US attorney Wesley Hsu, who's prosecuting the case.

Tombros' phone number is unlisted, and his new attorney did not return a phone call Friday.

Tombros was charged last month with a single felony under the criminal provisions of the CAN SPAM Act. He allegedly drove around the Los Angeles beachfront suburb of Venice with a laptop and a Wi-Fi antenna sniffing out unsecured residential access points, which he then used to send thousands of untraceable spam messages advertising pornography sites. An FBI spokesperson said Tombros obtained the email addresses from a credit card aggregation company where he used to work.

The CAN-SPAM Act, which took effect 1 January, doesn't criminalize unsolicited bulk commercial email, but it does outlaw most of the deceptive practices used by spammers. Tombros was charged under a provision that prohibits breaking into someone else's computer to send spam. Also outlawed is the practice of deliberately crafting spammy messages to disguise the origin; materially falsifying the headers in spam; spamming from five or more email accounts established under fake names; or hijacking five or more IP addresses and spamming from them.

A first-time violator face up to one year in federal stir for a small-time operation - three years if he or she meets one of several minimum standards of bad behavior, like leading a spam gang of at least three people, sending over 2,500 messages in one day, or using 10 or more falsely-registered domain names. As charged, Tombros faced the higher-tier sentence for the "especially complex and especially intricate offense conduct" of allegedly laundering his spam through wireless networks. Hsu wouldn't comment on the details of the plea agreement, and Tombros remains free to back out of the deal.

The criminal provisions of the Act were first exercised last April, when officials charged four Detroit-area men with sending nearly half-a-million deceptive messages through hijacked proxy servers.

Tombros' next court appearance is scheduled for 17 September.

"Over time spammers have shown that they will use any method that they feel they can use to send email," says Andrew Kirch, a security admin at the Abusive Hosts Blocking List. "We may be looking at an isolated incident, or we may be looking at the next big thing."

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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