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Cable Operators

Feds Indict Cable-Modem Hacker

11/03/2009 4:16 PM Eastern

Federal law-enforcement officials have accused a 26-year-old Oregon man -- known by the alias "DerEngel" in hacking circles -- of selling products designed to let users modify Motorola cable modems and tap into broadband networks without paying.

Officials unsealed the charges of conspiracy, computer intrusion, and wire fraud against Ryan Harris, of Redmond, Ore., and the company he founded, TCNISO, in a Massachusetts federal court Monday.

Harris called the charges "complete bullshit" and asserted that he would "never sell to anyone who had the intent to break the law" in an interview with Wired.com published Monday.

If convicted, Harris faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine and restitution on each count, according to the FBI.

According to the indictment, from 2003 through 2009, Harris and TCNISO "developed and distributed hardware and software tools that allowed its customers to modify their cable modems so that they could disguise themselves as legitimate, paying subscribers in order to access Internet service providers' networks without authorization and get premium high-speed access without paying for it."

The TCNISO products let users "sniff" the unique MAC addresses of legitimate paying customers and then hijack them, according to the indictment, and also allowed users to access higher-speed tiers of service for free.

Federal officials said one of the customers who used Harris's cable-modem hacking products was a male juvenile from Massachusetts, known by the online moniker "DShocker." In November 2008, DShocker, whose name is being withheld to protect his identity, was charged in federal court with computer intrusion, interstate threats and wire fraud.

DShocker used the TCNISO software to access Charter Communications' broadband service at 10 times standard access speeds without paying, the FBI said. Harris allegedly sent an undercover FBI agent several hacked cable modems and his book, "Hacking the Cable Modem: What Cable Companies Don't Want You to Know," in December 2008.

The indictment also references two other unindicted co-conspirators, who are not named, as employees of TCNISO.

The case was investigated by the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Bookbinder and Mona Sedky Spivack of the Department of Justice's Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section.

September