Feeds

How the Feds shook hands with an internet pedophile

Crime and punishment in the digital age

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

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.

Intelligent flash storage arrays

Next page: Enter Digerati

More from The Register

next story
Regin: The super-spyware the security industry has been silent about
NSA fingered as likely source of complex malware family
Why did it take antivirus giants YEARS to drill into super-scary Regin? Symantec responds...
FYI this isn't just going to target Windows, Linux and OS X fans
Privacy bods offer GOV SPY VICTIMS a FREE SPYWARE SNIFFER
Looks for gov malware that evades most antivirus
Home Office: Fancy flogging us some SECRET SPY GEAR?
If you do, tell NOBODY what it's for or how it works
HACKERS can DELETE SURVEILLANCE DVRS remotely – report
Hikvision devices wide open to hacking, claim securobods
'Regin': The 'New Stuxnet' spook-grade SOFTWARE WEAPON described
'A degree of technical competence rarely seen'
Syrian Electronic Army in news site 'hack' POP-UP MAYHEM
Gigya redirect exploit blamed for pop-rageous ploy
Astro-boffins start opening universe simulation data
Got a supercomputer? Want to simulate a universe? Here you go
prev story

Whitepapers

Seattle children’s accelerates Citrix login times by 500% with cross-tier insight
Seattle Children’s is a leading research hospital with a large and growing Citrix XenDesktop deployment. See how they used ExtraHop to accelerate launch times.
Getting started with customer-focused identity management
Learn why identity is a fundamental requirement to digital growth, and how without it there is no way to identify and engage customers in a meaningful way.
Why CIOs should rethink endpoint data protection in the age of mobility
Assessing trends in data protection, specifically with respect to mobile devices, BYOD, and remote employees.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Website security in corporate America
Find out how you rank among other IT managers testing your website's vulnerabilities.