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'Weev' attempts to overturn AT&T iPad 'hack' conviction

Insecure servers are publicly accessible, argue defence lawyers

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Lawyers for Andrew "Weev" Auernheimer went to court on Wednesday to appeal his conviction 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 2013 after he was found guilty of leaking the private email addresses of early adopters of Apple's fondleslab technology. The insecure set-up of AT&T's servers exposed the data, which was extracted using a script in 2010.

Auernheimer's co-defendant Daniel Spitler wrote a script that collected around 114,000 email addresses as a result of the security snafu. Auernheimer shared the email addresses with Gawker as proof of the vulnerability. Gawker published a redacted version of the list that pushed AT&T into acknowledging and fixing the security problem.

A criminal investigation and lawsuit followed.

Spitler and Auernheimer were both charged with identity theft and conspiracy over the incident. Spitler pleaded guilty in June 2011, while Auernheimer (a hacker and self-described internet troll) unsuccessfully contested the charges. His latest appeal was filed a year ago.

Weev's conviction under the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act (CFAA) was roundly condemned within the security community because the leaked data was harvested from an insecure server. Security researchers filed testimony in support of Auernheimer's appeal.

During a hearing at an appeal court in Philadelphia on Wednesday, Auernheimer's lawyers argued the prosecution relied on an improper application of the US Computer Fraud & Abuse Act (CFAA). There was no "unauthorised access" because the data was held on a publicly accessible server unprotected by any security controls, the defence case goes.

Government lawyers argued that Goatse Security's miscreants knew they were acting without authorisation.

During the hearing itself judges reportedly paid much more attention to the question of whether the venue of the prosecution was proper rather than the wrongful prosecution issue that had been the main ground's of Auernheimer's appeal. Neither Weev not AT&T is based in New Jersey, where the prosecution was heard.

An eye-witness account of the prosecution, along with commentary on the issues it raises, can be found in a blog by Rob Graham of Errata Security here.

Orin Kerr, a law professor at George Washington University and Weev's defence attorney, argued that Goatse didn't steal passwords or hack into a server and all they were really guilty of was embarrassing public officials, as Vice reports.

"This was a hack," Assistant US Attorney Glenn Moramarco (inarticulately) argued. "He had to decrypt and decode, and do all of these things I don't even understand."

Auernheimer, who is cooling his heels at Allenwood Federal Correctional Complex in White Deer, Pennsylvania, was denied permission to attend the appeal hearing. The case is being closely watched because Weev's conviction established a precedent that could be applied against security researchers and others who simply tinker with unprotected systems on the internet.

More background on the case and its implication for the tech world can be found on Megan Costello's law and technology (technoLAWgical) blog here.

A comprehensive run-down of US v Auernheimer can be found on an EFF microsite here. ®

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