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Hacker charged in $1m cable ISP customer cloning scheme

MAC spoofing biz flourished for six years

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Federal prosecutors have charged a California man with earning $1m over a six-year period by illegally selling products that allowed customers to get high-speed internet service for free.

Ryan Harris, 26, of San Diego sold software and hardware that were designed to fool Charter Communications and other internet service providers into believing the gear belonged to paying customers, the prosecutors allege. Harris and his employees also offered technical support in publicly available chat forums at tcniso.net, the website belonging to their modem-hacking business.

The hack worked by spoofing the media access control address that acts as an electronic serial number for each modem. By replacing the unique address with one known to belong to a paying subscriber, Harris's customers were able to obtain internet service for free. Over time, his company offered additional services. One allowed users to increase their bandwidth while another made it possible to detect the MAC addresses of legitimate paying ISP subscribers.

From 2003 to earlier this year, TCNISO, as Harris's company was called, generated revenue of more than $1m, according to documents filed in US District Court in Boston.

In addition to allowing customers to obtain internet service without paying for it, TCNISO allowed users to surf anonymously. Among those taking advantage of that benefit was a juvenile hacker who went by the moniker Dshocker. Last year, he admitted to carrying out crippling denial-of-service attacks on online rivals and placing hoax emergency phone calls that prompted them to receive visits by heavily armed police teams. The Massachusetts youth was sentenced to 11 months detention.

According to a 14-page indictment unsealed Monday, Harris took few pains to keep his illegal business secret. In addition to hosting online forums and selling a book online titled "Hacking the Cable Modem," he also authored a posting on his website asking for any "verified MAC addresses and/or config files" for users major metropolitan areas. The post promised "rewards will follow" for those who replied.

In all, Harris was indicted on six felony counts, including conspiracy, computer intrusion and wire fraud. If convicted on them all, he faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, 1.5 million in fines and an order to pay restitution. ®

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