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US uni hacker skirts child abuse charges

Gets three months as Judge wrestles with conscience

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A University of Pennsylvania student was sentenced to three months in custody on Tuesday after confessing his part in a cyber attack that crashed the server of the US uni's engineering facility two years ago.

Ryan Goldstein, 22, of Ambler, Pennsylvania, will also face five years on probation following his release from custody (which will probably take the form of home detention rather than jail). However, he would have faced a far tougher sentence if his admitted possession of child abuse images was taken into account.

Assistant US Attorney Michael Levy told AP that Goldstein's cooperation during the investigation resulted in a decision not to charge him over the possession of thousands of images of child abuse discovered on his computer. The Philadelphia Inquirer adds that Goldstein's cooperation with the authorities resulted in the arrests of seven other computer hackers.

US District Judge Michael Baylson criticised the decision not to prosecute Goldstein for his predilection for child porn. The judge took the unusual step of sentencing Goldstein alongside convicted child pornographer Derrick Williams, of Philadelphia, at the same hearing.

Like Goldstein, Williams was caught with thousands of child abuse images on his computer. Each copied some of the pictures, but only Williams posted some (around 15) of the images he held onto a website. Williams was jailed for two years (rather than the 8-10 years established in sentencing guidelines), whereas Goldstein will be free in as little as two months.

Goldstein's case is unrelated to that of Williams, who's viewed images of child pornography since he was only 11 or 12, according to testimony from a therapist assigned to his case. Goldstein contends that "computer addiction" drove his anti-social behaviour.

Judge Baylson noted that Williams was black while Goldstein was white, adding that this had "weighed very heavily on my mind" in explaining why he'd decided to carry out a joint sentencing hearing.

As well as a spell in custody, Goldstein will also face 90 days in a halfway house and 180 days of home confinement as well as a fine of $30,000, the Daily Pennsylvanian adds.

Goldstein reportedly helped the FBI in Operation Bot Roast, a global investigation of a network of cybercrooks that led to several arrests this summer. But his conduct during the investigation was less than exemplary, and included two instances of unspecified mischief with FBI computers, AP reports.

In between larking about with FBI systems, Goldstein helped the authorities to nail his former partner in crime Owen Thor Walker (aka AKILL), the teenage hacker who was the technical brains behind the cybercrime operation. Walker was let off with a $11,000 fine by authorities in his native New Zealand after agreeing to help police with other cybercrime investigations.

Goldstein and Walker reportedly conspired to turn a University of Pennsylvania server into a launch pad for denial of service attacks, crashing systems at the University in the process. Goldstein pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor count of aiding and abetting another hacker as part of a plea bargaining agreement back in February. ®

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