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A US man who sent out pornographic spam while driving around Venice, California, has escaped imprisonment for his misdeeds.

Nicholas Tombros, 40, was sentenced to three years' probation and six months' home detention after he was convicted of emailing out thousands of advertisements for pornographic websites. The spam emails were sent from Tombros's laptop using unsecured, unencrypted wireless internet access points he discovered while driving around in his car.

Tombros was, however, ordered to pay a $10,000 fine over his wrongdoing as part of a plea-bargaining agreement. Tombros was charged in August 2004. At the time, the US Attorney's office suggested Tombros might face up to three years imprisonment if convicted. It's unclear why the case took so long to be resolved.

Tombros can consider himself more than fortunate to have escaped a tougher punishment, especially in comparison with other recent prosecutions for similar offences.

For example, Singapore teenager Garyl Tan Jia Luo was given 18 months probation and an internet ban simply from hopping on his neighbour's internet connection without permission, while a Michigan man who parked outside a local Wi-Fi cafe every day to check his email has been fined $400 and sentenced to 40 hours' community service. Sam Peterson's actions would have been perfectly lawful if he'd simply stepped inside the cafe to buy a coffee while he surfed the net.

"While the US authorities did a fine job in apprehending Tombros, the outcome of this case is hardly likely to send shockwaves through the spamming world. After an inexplicably long waiting period, probation and a stint of home detention simply won't be enough to convince cybercriminals, many of whom are currently raking in the cash, to throw in the towel," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at net security firm Sophos.

Cluley added that the case illustrated the need for businesses and home users alike to properly secure their wireless internet access against exploitation. ®

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