Feeds

How the Feds shook hands with an internet pedophile

Crime and punishment in the digital age

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

Editor's Note added on April 8, 2010

On March 17, 2010, almost 13 months after this article was published, Michael Johnson, one of the individuals quoted in this article, contacted The Register to recant claims he made about Ryan Goldstein.

"It was a false and fabricated account, which was created because the pressure from the community to discredit Mr Goldstein," he wrote in an email. "I was out to harm Ryan Goldstein, not to ruin his life. However, i can't say the same for others, which is maybe what [sic] they are adamant that their statement is infact [sic] a true account."

Johnson declined to elaborate on the pressure he allegedly received or to provide support for those claims. In order to alert our readers to this development, The Register is adding this editor's note and striking a line through the 55-word passage that contains Johnson's account.

As former moderators for an internet relay channel dedicated to hacking, Francine Campbell and Sterlin Ward have seen some of the net's darker quarters. But nothing prepared them for their group's encounter with an internet pedophile who called himself Digerati.

After the hacker repeatedly propositioned channel members as young as 13 to engage in graphic webcam sex, Campbell and Ward alerted the FBI and officials at the University of Pennsylvania, where Digerati attended classes and got his internet access. Digerati - whose real name is Ryan Goldstein - was eventually prosecuted, but the experience left the channel elders - and some law-enforcement experts - critical of what they characterize as a Faustian deal

In exchange for Goldstein's help prosecuting seven cases involving botnets, federal prosecutors agreed to charge him with a single misdemeanor hacking charge for damage he inflicted on a University of Pennsylvania server. In October, he received just three months in prison despite being caught with about 1,000 images of child pornography.

For Francine Campbell, Sterlin Ward, and others on the #ssgroup IRC channel, it was a bitter lesson in the vagaries of crime and punishment in the digital age.

"I think protecting kids would be way more important than monetary damages to a server," says Ward, a 35-year-old networking analyst who took an early stand against Goldstein's online grooming of underage members. "I felt that he was going to eventually find a kid that was close enough for a meetup."

Ronald Levine, a Philadelphia-based attorney representing Goldstein, issued the following statement: "Mr. Goldstein denies this allegation. He admitted the misdemeanor computer intrusion conduct with which he was charged; he received a probationary sentence; and he is committed to moving forward with his life productively."

But Goldstein's former online associates stand by the accusations, and they presented emails and chat logs that appeared to back them up. In their minds, the episode shows the sometimes misplaced priorities of law enforcement and university administrators.

Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL

Next page: Enter Digerati

More from The Register

next story
Spies would need SUPER POWERS to tap undersea cables
Why mess with armoured 10kV cables when land-based, and legal, snoop tools are easier?
Early result from Scots indyref vote? NAW, Jimmy - it's a SCAM
Anyone claiming to know before tomorrow is telling porkies
Jihadi terrorists DIDN'T encrypt their comms 'cos of Snowden leaks
Intel bods' analysis concludes 'no significant change' after whistle was blown
Israeli spies rebel over mass-snooping on innocent Palestinians
'Disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear' vow spy-chiefs
TOR users become FBI's No.1 hacking target after legal power grab
Be afeared, me hearties, these scoundrels be spying our signals
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
China hacked US Army transport orgs TWENTY TIMES in ONE YEAR
FBI et al knew of nine hacks - but didn't tell TRANSCOM
Microsoft to patch ASP.NET mess even if you don't
We know what's good for you, because we made the mess says Redmond
NORKS ban Wi-Fi and satellite internet at embassies
Crackdown on tardy diplomatic sysadmins providing accidental unfiltered internet access
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.