Hackers eyed sale of celebrity iPad data
Feds charge Goatse trolls
Two hackers accused of stealing personal data belonging to 120,000 early adopters of Apple's iPad tablet last year discussed the possibility of selling it to spammers or using it to promote Goatse, the collective of trolls they belonged to.
According to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday, Andrew Auernheimer and Daniel Spitler also used the information to contact board members for Reuters, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., telling them that their personal data had been leaked by unsecured servers belonging to AT&T. Release of the list of elite iPadders, which included then White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, was obtained using a PHP script that matched email addresses and names to the corresponding ICC-IDs, or integrated circuit card identifiers, of the must-have Apple tablets.
“An information leak on AT&T's network allows severe privacy violations to iPad 3G users,” Auernheimer, who goes by the hacking moniker Weev, wrote to one News Corp. director. “Your iPad's unique network identifier was pulled straight out of AT&T's database.... If a journalist in your organization would like to discuss this particular issue with us[,] I would be absolutely happy to describe the method of theft in more detail.”
The 14-page complaint charges both men with one felony count each of conspiracy to access a protected computer without authorization and stealing the identification information of thousands of people. Both men are in the custody of federal authorities. Filed in US District Court in New Jersey, it claims they perpetrated the breach “for the express purpose of causing monetary and reputational damage to AT&T and monetary and reputational benefits to the defendants.”
Under US criminal procedures, prosecutors have 30 days to charge the men under a grand jury indictment unless the defendants agree to an extension. According to prosecutors, AT&T has spent about $73,000 remedying the data breach.
Spitler, 26, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday in federal court in Newark, New Jersey. According to prosecutors, he was released on $50,000 bail and the condition he not use computers or the internet except as required by work. The San Francisco-based man is also not permitted to travel, except to pass between New Jersey and California.
Auernheimer, 25, of Fayetteville, Arkansas, was scheduled to appear in Fayetteville federal court later in the day. If convicted, each man faces a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
Chat transcripts included in the charging document show the defendants and other Goatse members discussing how to capitalize on the cache of information leaked by AT&T. One member using the handle Nstyr wanted to “sell if [sic] for thousands to the biggest spammers.” Before the magnitude of the breach was known, Auernheimer wrote “if we can get a big dataset we could direct market ipad accessories.” He went on to say: “Takes like, millions to be profitable re: spam but thats a start.”
Destroying the evidence
Prosecutors claim that Spitler wrote a script called Account Slurper that attempted to siphon customer data by randomly plugging ICC-IDs into URLs on the AT&T website. When the script used an ID contained in the database, it would automatically open a page containing the customer’s name, email address, and other details. The charges for the equivalent of electronic trespass come even as security experts have roundly criticized AT&T for failing to property lock down the sensitive information.
“The issue it raises is the difference between I can and I may,” said March Rasch, a former federal prosecutor who is now director of cyber security and privacy at CSC, a technology consulting firm in Falls Church, Virginia. “Very frequently, people believe that if they are physically capable of obtaining information off of a webserver that it is the fault of the developer for creating a vulnerability and therefore they are perfectly allowed to exploit that vulnerability and then do anything they want with the information they've obtained. They view it as an unlocked door or even a door that is open.”
That is frequently not the case if the servers store sensitive information that the developers have taken steps to secure, he said.
What's more, the chat transcripts, which included 150 pages provided by a confidential informant, show Auernheimer and Spitler discussing the legal risks of the hack as well as the possibility of destroying the evidence to cover their tracks.
“I would like get rid of your shit like are we gonna do anything else with this data?” Auernheimer wrote in a message on June 10, some 24 hours after the breach became public knowledge.
“No should i toss it?” Spitler responded. The conversation continued:
Auernheimer: I don't think so either might be best to toss.
Spitler: yeah, I don't really give a fuck about it the troll is done
Auernheimer: yes we emerged victorious
Spitler: script is going byebye too.
The discussion could come back to harm the cases of the two men, Rasch told The Register.
“The problem that we have is we have this society of tinkerers that we call hackers and some of them are evil and some of them are what we call greyhat hackers,” he explained. “The greyhat hackers go around and jiggle the doors and jiggle the locks to find out how the locks work. So a lot of it has to do with what you do afterwards.” ®