Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

AOL Worker Who Stole E-Mail List Sentenced

Filed under
Legal

A former America Online software engineer was sentenced Wednesday to a year and three months in prison for stealing 92 million screen names and e-mail addresses and selling them to spammers who sent out up to 7 billion unsolicited e-mails.

"I know I've done something very wrong," a soft-spoken and teary eyed Jason Smathers told U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein.

The judge credited the 25-year-old former Harpers Ferry, W. Va., resident for his contrition and efforts to help the government before he pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges. A plea deal had called for a sentence of at least a year and a half in prison.

In a letter from Smathers to the court that was read partially into the record by Assistant U.S. Attorney David Siegal, Smathers tried to explain the crimes that AOL has said cost the company at least $400,000 and possibly millions of dollars.

"Cyberspace is a new and strange place," Siegal said Smathers wrote. "I was good at navigating in that frontier and I became an outlaw."

As the judge indicated he would be lenient toward Smathers, Siegal told Hellerstein that the public needs to learn from the case that the "Internet is not lawless."

"The public at large has an interest in making sure people respect the same values that apply in everyday life, on the Internet," Siegal said.

The judge imposed the reduced sentence of one year and three months, saying he recognized that Smathers cooperated fully with the government but did not have the kind of information that would have helped to build other criminal cases.

He said leniency was appropriate for "someone who tries hard to bare his soul but doesn't have the information the government needs."

In December, Hellerstein rejected the first attempt by Smathers to plead guilty, saying he was not convinced he had actually committed a crime. The judge accepted the plea in February, saying prosecutors had sufficiently explained why he had.

Smathers has admitted that he accepted $28,000 from someone who wanted to pitch an offshore gambling site to AOL customers, knowing that the list of screen names might make its way to others who would send e-mail solicitations.

The judge has recommended that Smathers be forced to pay $84,000 in restitution, triple what he earned. The imposition of restitution was delayed to give AOL a chance to prove the damages were much greater. The judge suggested the figure of at least $400,000 in damages was subjective.

Prosecutors said Smathers had engaged in the interstate transportation of stolen property and had violated a new federal CAN-SPAM law, short for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing Act, which is meant to diminish unsolicited e-mail messages about everything from Viagra to mortgages.

In December, the judge said he had dropped his own AOL membership because he received too much spam.

America Online Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Time Warner Inc., has since launched a major assault on spam, significantly reducing unsolicited e-mails.

Smathers was fired by AOL last June. Authorities said he used another employee's access code to steal the list of AOL customers in 2003 from its headquarters in Dulles, Va.

Smathers allegedly sold the list to Sean Dunaway, of Las Vegas, who used it to send unwanted gambling advertisements to subscribers of AOL, the world's largest Internet provider. Charges are pending against Dunaway.

The stolen list of 92 million AOL addresses included multiple addresses used by each of AOL's estimated 30 million customers. It is believed to be still circulating among spammers.

The judge refused a Probation Department recommendation that Smathers be banned from his profession, saying he trusted Smathers had learned his lesson.

Associated Press

More in Tux Machines

Intel Sandy Bridge Gets A Surprise Boost From Linux 3.17

Besides the recent work to support OpenGL Geometry Shaders for Sandy Bridge in Mesa, users of Intel "Sandy Bridge" HD Graphics can also be thankful for the forthcoming Linux 3.17 kernel. Early testing of Linux 3.17 has revealed that for at least some Intel Sandy Bridge hardware are OpenGL performance improvements with the newer kernel code. Read more

Open Source Okavango14: The Heartbeat of the Delta

We can hear this heartbeat by listening to what the environment tells us through sensors and testing. I proposed that we build low cost sensors using open source hardware and software. In recent years there has been quite a disruption in computing ability as a result of the prevalence of smartphones. Increasingly small and powerful components and processors have created an opportunities that we would have never thought possible. One of the results of that is the single-board Raspberry Pi computer. Originally, the Raspberry Pi was created to enable students to learn hardware and software development. For the Okavango Wilderness Project, we are using them to take environmental readings and send those to us for inclusion into the Into The Okavango website. Jer will cover this more in his expedition post. We are using them to measure water temperature, pH, conductivity, total dissolved solids, salinity, and specific gravity. Read more

Kochi innovator Arvind Sanjeev makes Google Glass clone for Rs 4,500

Instead of commercializing the product and with the intention of contributing to the community, Sanjeev posted a blog explaining how his 'Smart Cap' can be built by anyone using opensource hardware such as a Rasberry Pi computer, an Arduino board and Android software. Read more

Alfresco Raises A Fresh $45M To Fuel Open-Source Enterprise Content Management

Alfresco, an open source, enterprise content management startup, is today announcing a new round of funding of $45 million — a Series D round that is more than twice as big as all of its previous rounds put together. The UK-based company competes against legacy services like Documentum (which was co-founded by one of Alfresco’s co-founders, John Newton) and Sharepoint to help large organisations manage their disparate document storage both in the cloud and on-premises, and also offer versioning control and other compliance requirements across mobile, PC and other devices. Alfresco will use the new funding to step its business up a gear, with new sales and marketing efforts, and moves into more cloud-based services that could see it competing more directly also against the likes of Dropbox, Box and Huddle. Read more