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'Weev' appeals AT&T iPad hack conviction

Bug hunters asked to help data-slurping grey hat hacker's bid for freedom

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US cybercrime lawyers have filed an appeal against the conviction and lengthy sentence imposed upon Andrew "Weev" Auernheimer in a high-profile iPad data leak case.

Auernheimer, a member of the grey-hat hacking collective Goatse Security, was jailed for three years and five months back in March after he was found guilty of leaking punters' private email addresses. The data was exposed thanks to the insecure set-up of AT&T's servers.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has teamed up with law professor Orin Kerr, internet attorney and EFF fellow Marcia Hofmann, and Weev's trial lawyers Tor Ekeland and Mark Jaffe in filing an appeal with the 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeal argues the government's prosecution was flawed in law because it relied on an improper application of the US Computer Fraud & Abuse Act (CFAA).

Auernheimer's co-defendant Daniel Spitler discovered in 2010 that AT&T had configured its servers so that email addresses of early adopter iPad owners were publicly available on the net. Spitler wrote a script that collected roughly 114,000 email addresses as a result of the security snafu. Auernheimer then distributed the list of email addresses to media organisations as proof of the vulnerability, forcing AT&T to acknowledge and fix the security problem.

Auernheimer and Spitler were both charged with identity theft and conspiracy to violate the CFAA — the same law used against internet activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide earlier this year while living under the shadow of a looming prosecution. Spitler pleaded guilty in June 2011, while Auernheimer (a self-described internet troll) unsuccessfully fought the charges.

"Auernheimer was aggressively prosecuted for an act that caused little harm and was intended to be — and ultimately was — in the public interest," the EFF's Hofmann said in a statement on the appeal. "The CFAA's vague language gives prosecutors great latitude to abuse their discretion and throw the book at people they simply don't like. That's as evident here as it was in the prosecution of Aaron Swartz."

EFF staff attorney Hanni Fakhoury added: "The government set out to make an example of Auernheimer. But the only message this sends to the security research community is that if you discover a vulnerability, you could go to jail for sounding the alarm."

Weev's conviction under the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act (CFAA) was heavily criticised in the security community because the leaked data was harvested from an insecure server. Security researchers are invited to file testimony in an amicus brief in support of Auernheimer's appeal.

Auernheimer is currently resident at the Allenwood Federal Correctional Complex, White Deer, Pennsylvania.

Last month representatives Zoe Lofgren (D) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R), and Senator Ron Wyden (D, Oregon) introduced "Aaron's Law" in Congress, a bill that would reform the CFAA. Documents related to the appeal and further background on Auernheimer's conviction can be found on the EFF's website. ®

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