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Feds say dev's 'cookie-stuffer' app fleeced eBay

'Saucekit' milked referral program

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A Las Vegas web developer has been charged with fleecing eBay out of tens of thousands of dollars by selling a program that planted fraudulent web cookies on the PCs of people visiting the online auctioneer.

Dubbed saucekit, the program deposited a cookie on end users' hard drives that contained a unique code identifying affiliate websites even though advertisements from those sites were never viewed, according to documents filed Tuesday in US District Court in San Jose, California. Users who went on to take "revenue actions" on eBay would cause the affiliate to receive a referral fee it was not entitled to.

From January 2009 to the following November, Saucekit creator Christopher Kennedy actively promoted the cookie-stuffing program on his currently unavailable website and on hacking forums. Using the handle biglevel, he regularly discussed the technical and legal merits of the program, as seen in threads here and here.

In March, eBay lawyers demanded Kennedy immediately stop selling the program. The hacker responded by posting a comment to a forum on blackhatworld.com "mocking the cease and desist letter that had been sent to him," prosecutors alleged.

In October, an individual known to prosecutors claimed to have generated $4,000 using saucekit as a beta tester. A month later, Kennedy left a post stating that "he had a client make almost $10,000 in one month and the $7,000 in the prior month," prosecutors alleged.

The cookie-stuffing program exploited the eBay Partner Network, which pays referral fees to websites when one of their advertisements leads to a sale on the online auctioneer's site. The program works using web cookies that identify which site and advertisement were viewed just prior to the user visiting eBay. Saucekit directed user browsers to a website in Nevada, which deposited a cookie that identified a particular affiliate even though the website hadn't been visited.

The criminal charge comes more than a year after eBay filed a civil complaint against business partners of carrying out similar cookie-stuffing schemes. The lawsuit detailed the lengths the alleged fraudsters went to avoid detection, such as ensuring the stuffing never took place in San Jose, California or Santa Barbara, California, where eBay and an affiliate service were located.

Kennedy was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He faces a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000, in addition to possible restitution. Attempts to reach Kennedy for comment were not successful. ®

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