Feeds

How the Feds shook hands with an internet pedophile

Crime and punishment in the digital age

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

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.

The essential guide to IT transformation

Next page: Enter Digerati

More from The Register

next story
Goog says patch⁵⁰ your Chrome
64-bit browser loads cat vids FIFTEEN PERCENT faster!
Chinese hackers spied on investigators of Flight MH370 - report
Classified data on flight's disappearance pinched
NIST to sysadmins: clean up your SSH mess
Too many keys, too badly managed
Scratched PC-dispatch patch patched, hatched in batch rematch
Windows security update fixed after triggering blue screens (and screams) of death
Researchers camouflage haxxor traps with fake application traffic
Honeypots sweetened to resemble actual workloads, complete with 'secure' logins
prev story

Whitepapers

Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up distributed data
Eliminating the redundant use of bandwidth and storage capacity and application consolidation in the modern data center.
The essential guide to IT transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIOs automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.