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A Florida man has been convicted of stealing vast amounts of personal information from Acxiom, one of the world's largest database companies, in order to inflate the value of his spamming firm.

Scott Levine, 46, of Boca Raton, Florida, was last week found guilty of 120 counts of unauthorized access to data, two access device fraud charges and a single obstruction of justice offence, AP reports. The former head of defunct bulk mail outfit Snipermail.com was cleared of 14 conspiracy charges and money laundering at the end of a trial that lasted almost a month.

Prosecutors described the case as the "largest ever invasion and theft of personal data" ever tried. In court, Levine and Snipermail.com were accused of stealing a jaw-dropping 1.6 billion customer records containing details of the name, address and email of millions of Americans from Acxiom databases during a total of 137 hack attacks. The purloined data was used to inflate the value of Snipermail, a Boca Raton-based company controlled by Levine. There is no suggestion that the accused engaged in identity theft.

Weak access control allowed Snipermail.com to illegally access swathes of information thanks to a business relationship between Acxicom and one of Snipermail's clients. Snipermail should only have been allowed limited access but instead it was allowed the run of the lan(d). The purloined data was used to inflate Snipermail's contact list and make it a more attractive target for acquisition.

Evidence of Snipermail's alleged assault was discovered by investigators probing a separate security breach at Acxiom. Daniel Baas, 25, of Cincinnati, Ohio, pleaded guilty to that attack in December 2003.

Acxiom clients include 14 of the 15 biggest credit card companies, seven of the top ten auto manufacturers and five of the top six retail banks. The company also analyses consumer databases for multinationals such as Microsoft, IBM, AT&T and General Electric.

Arkansas-based Acxiom has overhauled security since the attacks were uncovered. ®

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