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Fired AOL Engineer gets 15 Months 371

n3hat writes "A former America Online software engineer was sentenced to 15 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-mail messages, according to this A.P. story in the Baltimore Sun."
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Fired AOL Engineer gets 15 Months

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  • by losman ( 840619 ) * on Thursday August 18, 2005 @11:37PM (#13352963)
    AOL still blows and we are amazed people still use it.

    I know, I know... probably a flamebait rating but come on, you know you giggled!
    • by `Sean ( 15328 ) <> on Thursday August 18, 2005 @11:59PM (#13353076) Homepage Journal
      June 22, 2000 (from []):

      America Online: A sucker born every minute...

      According to a corporate press release dated June 16, 2000, America Online has surpassed the 23 million member mark. Founded in 1985, AOL has been a household name to novice computer users worldwide. Unfortunately, many of these novices don't know that they're only seeing a small portion of the Internet and are being limited by AOL's proprietary and archaic interface.

      Now, it's fairly safe to make the assumption that at least a quarter of AOL's 23 million customers are simply short-term users along for the free trial or jumping from service to service looking for the best deal. And, using that same line of thinking, roughly half of those 17.25 million remaining customers are probably smart enough to see AOL for what it really is and cancel their service in a desperate fit of fight or flight.

      That leaves approximately 8.63 million customers that use AOL as their primary Internet Service Provider, give or take a random three quarter million people at any given time signing up or canceling. With this in mind, and approximately 7.88 million minutes in AOL's 15 year history, this proves that a sucker really is born every minute.

      • by securitas ( 411694 ) on Friday August 19, 2005 @12:12AM (#13353126) Homepage Journal

        Or maybe it means that novices sign up to become familiar with interacting with the online world.

        Once they've become comfortable with using a computer and an online service, they feel that they can take the training wheels off and find things on the Web for themselves. The most common Internet activities are e-mail, Web and chat. You don't need AOL for those.

        • But you do need AOL for it's high quality IM client!
      • Our uber-geek superiority complex sidesteps the fact that probably a large number of people in the world still have "12:00" flashing on their VHS (Beta?) VCRs, they never upgrade or patch the operating system their computer ships with, and still think that a 486 is a good computer.

        AOL targets the masses; they fill a niche that allow us geeks to play Battlefield 2 or compile code or peruse usenet, without having to answer a phone every 2 minutes explaining how to use "electronic you don't have t
    • For all this shit people give AOL, I recommend it to every novice user I know. It has integrated spyware detection, some of the best spam and phishing blocking, comes with access to AOL's large library of music and videos, news, etc... It sets up your buddy list and everything for you. All of this is accessible by running one program, and for all of the functionality packed into it, the gui isn't half bad. For the price you pay, you can't beat it.

      Most people think that it is just a regular ISP but it isn't
  • Lucky guy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by igny ( 716218 ) on Thursday August 18, 2005 @11:40PM (#13352976) Homepage Journal
    He has got just 1 second of jail per 175 emails.
    • Re:Lucky guy (Score:4, Interesting)

      by ScentCone ( 795499 ) on Friday August 19, 2005 @12:58AM (#13353280)
      He has got just 1 second of jail per 175 emails

      That assumes that the people he sold the names to (and whoever else might have received them downstream) only used them once. I'm going to bet that's not the case. Some hunk of that last has probably made rounds to multiple mail whores for a little merge/purge processing against their other lists. That's not nearly enough time - he should get out when people holding those addresses haven't seen any spam for at least 6 months.
    • Re:Lucky guy (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Frogbert ( 589961 ) <{frogbert} {at} {}> on Friday August 19, 2005 @02:35AM (#13353523)
      I think its kind of harsh that he was sent to prison, personally I think that prisons should be reserverd for people who present a physical threat to other people.

      In a case such as this, while he may have caused damage and made some money off it, a significant fine would be ample. I mean its not like he is a danger to society if he doesn't get locked away.
      • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Friday August 19, 2005 @05:27AM (#13353886)
        7 billion spams. Say 99% of them were caught by spam filters or went to bogus addresses. That leaves 70 million spams people had to deal with by hand. If it took one second to delete each of those spams, that means he cost everyone an aggregate 2.2 years of life. If someone imprisoned you in front of a computer hitting delete over and over for 2.2 years, wouldn't you consider him to be a physical threat to you and others?

        Why is it that people think a distributed crime is any less of a crime? Do you think it'd be OK if he stole $130,000 from a bank? Then why do you think it's OK that he stole $0.0019 each (1 second's wages at $6.75/hr) from 70 million people? They work out to the same amount of money.

        • That's what a 'throw away' account like a hotmail acocunt is for, you simply stop reading it and it shuts down you only check it when expect an automated response form some website x that needed a valid e-mail etc... never have to click delete :p

          but yeah, before yahoo's filter started catching 99% of all the spam instead of having 6-7 spams a week to delete, i'd have 100-200 pwer day. before that i had to manually try and use spamcop. that was even more than 1 second per spam, more like half a minute. y
  • by Fox_1 ( 128616 ) on Thursday August 18, 2005 @11:41PM (#13352983)
    Obligatory Family Guy joke: "Remember last week when you asked me to define irony and I said - urarghhh!" AOL personally kept me supplied with floppy disks during my school dayz, and many a cd coaster when I started working IT. These guys are the king of snail mail spam (virus(AOL8) laden cd's anyone :) and here this guy goes and follows their lead online, further screwing over the poor AOL customers. I love it.
    • But there is a difference.

      When AOL sends their crap through snail mail, AOL themselves is paying for it to be sent.

      When spammers send their email, they are using bandwidth that other people have to pay for.
      • In this case the spam was going to AOL customers, so AOL was paying for it :) but I aknowledge your point.
      • The cost of postage does not represent the true cost of the disc. It obviously only represents the mailing cost.

        Costs not included in postage include
        • the cost of maintaining a work force of refuse collectors,
        • the equipment they use to transport trash,
        • the cost of landfills to hold the trash,
        • the environmental costs not paid by the disc manufacturers in producing the discs.

        I'm sure the list could go on. What is important is that it is taxpayers -- not AOL, who pay these costs. AOL's snail mail spam sh

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 18, 2005 @11:41PM (#13352989)
    The setting: Prison cafeteria.

    Prisoner #1: So what're you in for?
    Prisoner #2: Aggravated assault. You?
    Prisoner #1: Armed robbery. How 'bout you?
    AOL Engineer: I stole 92 million screen names and e-mail addresses and sold them to spammers who sent out up to 7 billion unsolicited e-mail messages.
    Prisoners #1 and 2 inch away from AOL Engineer at the lunch table

    • by mhearne ( 601124 ) on Friday August 19, 2005 @01:03AM (#13353289)
      If I had to go to jail for a cybercrime, I would at least want the other inmates to understand the charge.

      15 months really isn't that bad, he'll probably do a third of that with good time (5 months). But he'll have to be on probation for years, and nobody worth working for is going to want to let him do anything more than stuff resistors in circuit boards.

      The trouble that comes after prison is often worse than doing the time itself.

      • by Moraelin ( 679338 ) on Friday August 19, 2005 @01:50AM (#13353419) Journal
        " If I had to go to jail for a cybercrime, I would at least want the other inmates to understand the charge."

        The public at large may not be experts in some of the more sophisticated crimes, nor in the finer points of intellectual property (e.g., as applied to those database records), but stuff like spam is something you don't need a Ph.D. in CS to understand. If someone doesn't understand, someone else will explain it to them.

        Spammer: "I sold 92 million AOL email addresses to spammers."
        Bubba: "Uh, wot's a spammer"
        Billy Joe: "Bubba, you know those 'enlarge your penis' and 'horny teens waiting for you' messages you told me your little daughter was getting on AOL? This guy told them where to send those."

        Which way it goes from there, I wouldn't know. But from there Bubba understands exactly what the cybercrime was.
      • he'll probably do a third of that with good time (5 months)

        I don't think so.

        My understanding is that when you are sentenced to X months at a federal facility, you spend X months there. There are no early releases or paroles.

        That assumes, of course, that he doesn't have a smart lawyer trying to overturn it.

  • by securitas ( 411694 ) on Thursday August 18, 2005 @11:43PM (#13352993) Homepage Journal

    AOL E-mail Data Thief Gets 15 Months in Prison

    AP's Larry Neumeister reports that the AOL employee who sold 92 million stolen e-mail addresses and screen names to spammers has been sentenced to one year and three months in prison []. Jason Smathers sold the list to spammers for $28,000, who then proceeded to send as many as 7 billion spam messages. The prosecutor in the case estimated 'AOL suffered a loss of 10 cents for every 1,000 spam e-mails sent to subscribers.' The judge suggested that Smathers pay $84,000 in restitution [] but will decide on the final figure after AOL files details of financial losses due to increased staff, hardware and software costs. An interesting note: Judge Alvin Hellerstein said in December that he canceled his AOL subscription because he received too much spam.

    2005-08-17 21:42:32 AOL E-mail Data Thief Gets 15 Months in Prison (Index,Spam) (rejected)

  • So... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Lally Singh ( 3427 ) on Thursday August 18, 2005 @11:44PM (#13352998) Journal
    How many years are AOL's management getting for... well, managing AOL.
    • They should be banned from this planet for suggesting the mass production of 8 trillion AOL CDs a year to everyone's mailbox every state every day. Which probably attract 1 customer out of 100 free CDs.

      • Re:So... (Score:5, Funny)

        by nmb3000 ( 741169 ) <> on Friday August 19, 2005 @01:58AM (#13353430) Journal
        Which probably attract 1 customer out of 100 free CDs.

        1 in 100? I have to think the return on those discs is way lower than 1 in 100. I'd put it at more like 5,000 discs in return for a single year-long contract.

        *Maybe* 1 in 100 will put the disc in the drive, perhaps 1 in 500 will begin the trial. However, once the 10 million hours of free* Internet access expire, I expect very few will pony up the $21.95 or whatever the hell they're charging for "special" Internet today.

        *10 million hours of free slower-than-hell dialup access expire 10 days after activation. Social security number, date of birth, full name, and valid credit card with a minimum of $20,000 credit limit required. AOL reserves the right to do whatever the hell we want, anytime, anywhere. By agreeing to these terms, you acknowledge you are a complete dumbass.
  • Why jail? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Eightyford ( 893696 ) on Thursday August 18, 2005 @11:45PM (#13353003) Homepage
    I've never understood why non-violent criminals are even put into jail. Instead of us taxpayers paying about 25 grand a year for this guy(a number I pulled directly out of my ass, by the way); he should be forced to repay the damage that he has done. And, if it takes the rest of his life, then so be it; just don't let the guy declare bankruptcy (another thing I've never really understood).

    Anyways, save jail for the murderers, rapists, and child molesters of the world. Make people like this guy, Martha Stewart, and Bernie Ebbers repay they're debt in other more productive ways.
    • Re:Why jail? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Thursday August 18, 2005 @11:56PM (#13353056)
      Repayment is only a deterrent if the perp has been less than successful. A millionaire spammer (Richter?) could consider that just the cost of business, and be on his merry way.
      • Re:Why jail? (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Eightyford ( 893696 )
        Right, but what if he has to give up all of his money? Sounds fair to me.
      • Re:Why jail? (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Seumas ( 6865 ) *
        That's why all the guys who ran Enron and Worldcom are in jail.

        Oh, wait...
      • Re:Why jail? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by JohnsonWax ( 195390 )
        Repayment would be a deterrent if it were proportional to the crime. It's part of the reason why RICO provides for 2x damages. If you made $10M as a spammer and had to repay $20M, even successful criminals would be deterred.

        I work hard and don't mind paying taxes for the benefits I receive, but money earned in the conviction of a crime should be returned to those it came from *and* an equal sum paid to the taxpayers for having to put up with the assholes in the first place.

        I sure wouldn't mind if Ebbers and
      • Repayment is only a deterrent if the perp has been less than successful.

        Not if repayment is picking up highway trash for $5/hour. Cause $1,000 damage, work for 200 hours (say 8 hours a week for the next 6 months or something). No option to pay it off, you have to do the work.
      • Couldn't they, I don't know, ramp up the fine depending on how much the guy was worth?
    • Bankruptcy is just a social safety net. What if someone sued you for $5 mil and won on something that wasn't really your fault. Assuming you dont have $5 mil, you can go bankrupt, suffer for a few years and you're out. Otherwise you would have to sell yourself as a slave or something else just as stupid :)
    • Re:Why jail? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by value_added ( 719364 ) on Friday August 19, 2005 @12:11AM (#13353117)
      just don't let the guy declare bankruptcy (another thing I've never really understood)

      Such debts can't be discharged in bankruptcy court.
    • Re:Why jail? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dal20402 ( 895630 ) * <[dal20402] [at] []> on Friday August 19, 2005 @12:44AM (#13353239) Journal
      I agree with you that, in general, too many people are in jail.

      But in cases of very costly (to the rest of us) and profitable (to the perp) white-collar crime, there is very little else that can serve as a deterrent. White-collar criminals tend to have a different attitude from low-level drug offenders: they aren't desperate or sick, and don't even recognize that what they're doing is wrong. Instead, they feel no guilt about gaming the system in any way possible (speaking in generalities, of course).

      If you fine them, they'll hide their money (as another poster said). If you try to leverage their knowledge, they'll fail to cooperate. As long as you let them have their freedom, they'll find a way to beat you. The way to make them think twice is to take away their freedom.

      If we put one white-collar perp in jail for every five low-level drug offenders we let out and put into intensive treatment programs, we'd make the market a more honest place and solve a lot of social problems at the same time.

      • Good answer.

        In my view, the police and justice system exist to minimize the cost of (crime+police+justice). Prison acts as a deterent, and keeps dangerous people out of harm's way. Fines act as a deterent and restitution.

        Prison is appropriate for dangerous criminals, and when fines or other punishment do not provide sufficient deterent. In the case of non-violent financial crime, fines are insufficient if the criminal has little money to take (and, if you're into indentured servitude, as the grandparent see
      • Re:Why jail? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by hackstraw ( 262471 ) *
        there is very little else that can serve as a deterrent.

        Let me think...

        Beheading. Public humiliation (stockades, or something similar). A tattoo on the forehead. Deportation. Loss of driver's license. An intense chemical or physical sensory overload such as being confined with a horrible smell or intense low frequency sound that is nauseating. Flogging.

        No, I'm not a sadist, but I did come up with all of these off the top of my head.

        Jail and prison are the adult version of being sent to your room when
    • Make people like this guy, Martha Stewart, and Bernie Ebbers repay their debts in other more productive ways.

      While I'm in full agreement with your feelings, the trouble with that form of punishment is that it is impossible for an individual person to legally generate the level of capital required for complete restitution. So they do what they think they can do to get the money as quickly as possible, and get stuck into another round of theft to pay off the debts from the first round. Do we really want tha

  • by Rocky1138 ( 758394 ) on Thursday August 18, 2005 @11:46PM (#13353009) Homepage
    I wonder how he stole them? And how long did it take for him to give them back? Did they ever find them?
  • by jhfry ( 829244 ) on Thursday August 18, 2005 @11:47PM (#13353017)
    of those 92 million, only about 2 million actually use aol mail... the rest are people who used up thier free trial and moved on.

    I mean seriously, you expect me to believe that AOL has 92 million paying customers?

    Honestly if I were a spammer, I'd only pay half price for AOL addresses, the odds of someone reading your email (especially after filtering) is nearly zero.
  • by zephc ( 225327 ) on Thursday August 18, 2005 @11:48PM (#13353019)
    "He's nothing but a low-down, double-dealing, backstabbing, larcenous perverted worm! Hanging's too good for him. Burning's too good for him! He should be torn into little bitsy pieces and buried alive!"

  • by DSP_Geek ( 532090 ) on Thursday August 18, 2005 @11:50PM (#13353024)
    Kevin Mitnick prowls around some machines, steals nothing, damages nothing, yet spends four years in jail waiting for his trial, gets a five year sentence, and has to stay away from computers for another few years, while this fucknuts steals a subscriber list for spammers and gets a slap on the wrist? Doesn't even have to stay away from other people's mail servers? Riiight.
    • Read TFA (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Friday August 19, 2005 @12:16AM (#13353138) Homepage
      If you read TFA you'll see that the AOLer got off easy because he pleaded guilty very early on. In contrast this Kevin Mitnick nitwit is even now trying to play the victim and not really sounding contrite about it.
      • Re:Read TFA (Score:2, Funny)

        by Moofie ( 22272 )
        Yeah, we should totally have a legal system where only people who aren't nitwits get due process. Everybody who IS a nitwit should just rot in jail.

        Who picks the nitwits?
        • ... we already have that system. You may notice that stuff like getting a different sentence for pleading guilty or cooperating with justice aren't new to this case. That's how the RL system works, and is supposed to work.

          There is no such thing as purely objective justice, where the sentence is just spat out based on a formula. (Just feed the crime in, have a computer churn a few seconds, spit out the exact number of days in jail.) It's not even supposed to work that way.

          As for who picks the nitwits, that's
  • by ( 142825 ) on Thursday August 18, 2005 @11:50PM (#13353025) Homepage
    I think we all should send his cellmate bottles of penis enlargment pills, viagra, cialis, cialis soft tabs, Jackrabbit vibrators, and everything else we get from spam.

    All in the name of poetic justice.

  • Just curious (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hackstraw ( 262471 ) * on Thursday August 18, 2005 @11:51PM (#13353030)
    Does anybody actually know the charge he was convicted of? I looked at the article and it mentioned pleas and taking "stolen property" across state lines, and CAN-SPAM, but none of these were clear as to what he was actually convicted of.

    • Right. How can all those bits and bytes be "stolen property"? Every single one of those AOL members still has their screen name and email address... ;)
    • Conspiracy (Score:3, Informative)

      by jfengel ( 409917 )
      The article just says "conspiracy", which is pretty vague. I suspect that it means "conspiracy to commit fraud", 18 USC 371, punishable by up to 5 years.
  • by jpiggot ( 800494 ) on Thursday August 18, 2005 @11:52PM (#13353036)
    "You've Got Jail !"
  • by __aamcgs2220 ( 792986 ) on Thursday August 18, 2005 @11:55PM (#13353054)
    He better pray for solitary confinement. Bubba and his posse are all fiercely loyal AOL users and they don't NEED no \/i@GR@ or Ci@li5.
  • Oh come on... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    what's the point in selling 92 million email address? any dictionary attack worth it's weight will have found 80%+ of those accounts anyway... with 92 million of these suckers, any <random_string_of_characters> @ will almost certainly come up with a match, or at least a partial match.
    • what's the point in selling 92 million email address?

      Making $28,000 from a fool who is setting up an offshore gambling site.

  • by ACK!! ( 10229 ) on Friday August 19, 2005 @12:06AM (#13353102) Journal
    I mean he stole a ton of personal info and stuff.

    There are a lot of hardcore hackers that got a ton more time than that.

    Tell me what you think?
  • bfd (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ErichTheWebGuy ( 745925 ) on Friday August 19, 2005 @12:08AM (#13353104) Homepage
    From what I understand, there are several robot programs that go through AOL chat rooms and suck down screen names for use in spam operations. I would suspect that that technique is:

    - more effective, since all of the addresses you gather are known good
    - cheaper, since you can get millions of addresses a week then cancel your free trial
    - less risky

    A spammer that pays that kind of money for such a seemingly worthless list of stolen addresses should look for another line of work.
  • by Comatose51 ( 687974 ) on Friday August 19, 2005 @12:10AM (#13353113) Homepage
    Cost in dolars delete spam from your AOL account: $5
    Cost to have CompUSSR repair your PC from spyware: $150
    The look on the spammer's face as he see "Bubba" get a penis enlargement spam: Priceless

    There are some things money can't buy, for everything else there's KARMA!
  • Have to wonder...Will he end up like that Russian Spammer? Murdered :)

    I must say, that fate should befall all spammers...
  • by craXORjack ( 726120 ) on Friday August 19, 2005 @12:14AM (#13353129)
    The most I've ever got from AOL was 1 month free.
  • by callipygian-showsyst ( 631222 ) on Friday August 19, 2005 @12:18AM (#13353145) Homepage
    Is Jason Smathers considered to be megafauna? []

    Take a look at his photo so you'll know what I mean....

  • Next (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TRRosen ( 720617 ) on Friday August 19, 2005 @12:38AM (#13353222)
    what I want to know is when we can expect to hear about the conviction of the spammers he sold to. Obviously due to the size of the database (every AOL member ever apparently) they knew it was stolen. So we should see several spammers charged with 92,000,000 counts of recieving stolen merchandise right???

    OK - no chance of the government being that smart... but it would be nice.

  • Why don't we put this clown in the stocks in the public square of his hometown, and let anyone who's received a spam from his customers slap him upside the head?

    Sure, it might result in a fatal concussion sometime around the fourth of fifth hour of people lining up to smack him, but them's the breaks.

  • Welcome (Score:5, Funny)

    by dirtsurfer ( 595452 ) on Friday August 19, 2005 @01:33AM (#13353369) Journal
    You've got jail!
  • Make him apologize (Score:3, Interesting)

    by flakac ( 307921 ) on Friday August 19, 2005 @04:36AM (#13353789)
    Actually, a better alternative would be to sentence him to sending apologies to all of the people whose addresses he stole.

    By hand. One at a time.

    If courts started making spammers do this instead, it'd be a much better deterrent than jail, and it would much better fit the crime.
  • by WebGangsta ( 717475 ) on Friday August 19, 2005 @09:59AM (#13354742)
    So they got one AOL employee in jail for stealing screen names.

    But they didn't get Heather Robinson [], the former AOL staffer [] who stole celebrities' screen names [] and worked those "newly found contacts" into various movie deals.

    One is a criminal; the other is an "up and coming screenwriter". Obviously there is no consistency in how AOL deals with employee violations.

Always leave room to add an explanation if it doesn't work out.