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MySpace hackers avoid extortion rap

Blackmail charges dropped against tracking software duo

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Blackmail charges have been dropped against a pair of hackers accused of mounting an extortion scam against MySpace as part of a plea-bargaining agreement.

Shaun Harrison, 19, and Saverio Mondelli, 20, of Suffolk County, New York, pleaded guilty to developing code that tracked MySpace users in exchange for an agreement by prosecution lawyers to drop charges that they attempted to extort $150,000 from MySpace.

An illegal access charge was also withdrawn as part of an agreement that saw the duo agree to three years' probation instead of facing charges punishable by up to four years' imprisonment.

Harrison and Mondelli also agreed to pay $13,500 in damages to MySpace and to serve 160 hours of community service as part of the agreement, AP reports. The duo further agreed to limits on their use of the internet, such as restricting themselves to one email address each, in order to avoid possible imprisonment.

Superior Court Commissioner Kristi Lousteau told the duo they will be subject to computer searches without notice and that they were both banned from accessing MySpace for any reason. Violation of their probation would result in imprisonment, she warned.

MySpace is supposed to offer anonymity to visitors, but Harrison and Mondelli developed software designed to allow users to track the email and IP addresses of surfers who visited their profile. MySpace blocked early versions of the traffic monitoring software, which was offered for sale on the web at $30 a pop, but the pair claimed to have developed an unbreakable version which they allegedly threatened to release unless MySpace paid them "consultancy fees".

Harrison and Mondelli were arrested in May 2006 when they flew to LA to "collect" these fees by undercover Secret Service and district attorney's investigators posing as representatives of MySpace.

Hemanshu Nigam, chief security officer for MySpace, welcomed the successful prosecution of Harrison and Mondelli. "We are pleased with outcome of this case and hope that it sends a message to anyone thinking about causing harm to the MySpace community," Nigam told AP, adding that MySpace will continue to oppose firms offering tracking software that violates user privacy. ®

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