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

OnePlus 5T review—An outstanding combination of specs, design, and price

After launching the OnePlus 5 earlier this year, OnePlus is back with an end-of-year upgrade for the device. The OnePlus 5T takes a winning formula—high-end specs with a low price tag and a metal body—and reworks the front of the phone to dedicate as much space as possible to the screen. This device has a new screen, a new button layout, a new fingerprint reader, and a new camera setup. It almost feels like a totally new device. We liked the OnePlus 5 from earlier in the year, but, with the more modern design, OnePlus has fixed OnePlus 5's biggest downside. The result is something that is extremely compelling—a $500 phone that makes you question exactly why you'd give $800 to those other OEMs when this has nearly everything the more expensive phones have. Read more

Linus Torvalds: 'I don't trust security people to do sane things'

Linus Torvalds has offered his thoughts on Linux security approaches, branding some security professionals as "f*cking morons" for focusing on process-killing rather than debugging. Torvalds, the creator and principal developer of the Linux kernel, does not often pull his punches when it comes to the kernel's behaviors and security. The engineer carried on the tradition over the weekend, as Google Pixel developer Kees Cook submitted a pull request for hardened usercopy changes for v4.15-rc1, which according to Cook, narrows areas of memory "that can be copied to/from userspace in the face of usercopy bugs by adding explicit whitelisting for slab cache regions." Read more Also: Linux creator slams security bods

Sustainable Open Source is About Evolution as a Group

The role of a CMO in a software company is fundamentally different from that in any other category. We have a really interesting role in marketing and technology, and it’s one of education and guidance. There used to be a place 20 years ago where, as a marketer, you would come up with a simple pithy message and buy a bunch of advertising and people would believe it. That’s not true anymore. Now we have to position ourselves alongside the architectures and the thought leadership that our customers are interested in to prove our value. Read more

Games: SuperTuxKart, PAWARUMI, Radar Warfare and More