Alleged hacker Andrew 'weev' Auernheimer has been given an unforgiving prison sentence of 41 months for his part in the hugely embarrassing 2010 compromise of 114,000 iPad-using AT&T customers.
Found guilty last November, 26 year-old Auernheimer’s prison sentence is likely to become only the latest contentious chapter in complex story that has sharply divided opinion.
As part of the 'Goatse Security' group, Auernheimer has styled himself as a security researcher who did nothing more untoward than reveal a weakness on AT&T’s website that was of its own making.
Using a PHP script, he and others were able to uncover the email addresses of AT&T iPad users by submitting a number that corresponded to the user’s 3G ICC-ID SIM identifier.
This allowed the collection of up to 120,000 email addresses which the group sent to journalists as proof of the compromise.
To AT&T, intention was everything, branding Auernheimer and his associates as hackers before closing the security ‘flaw’, which had been enabled to smooth the login process for customers.
"They then put together a list of these emails and distributed it for their own publicity," stated AT&T chief privacy officer, Dorothy Attwood, in June 2010 aftermath of the attack.
In a Reddit post, Auernheimer was clearly aware of the jail time that was coming his way.
“Tomorrow morning is my sentencing. The pre-sentencing report recommends around 4 years of prison time. I have been told by the government to "prepare to be processed" that very morning. I may go to prison tomorrow,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, campaign organisation the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), said it planned to aid him in an appeal against the sentence.
"Weev is facing more than three years in prison because he pointed out that a company failed to protect its users' data, even though his actions didn't harm anyone," said EFF senior staff attorney, Marcia Hofmann said.
"The punishments for computer crimes are seriously off-kilter, and Congress needs to fix them," she said.
Not everyone is as enthused by Auernheimer, seeing him as an example of a self-regarding hacking elite out to cause trouble for personal ends; opinions of the man and his mission are clearly divided even among those critical of AT&T’s legal pursuit under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
“Andrew Auernheimer knew he was breaking the law when he and his partner hacked into AT&T’s servers and stole personal information from unsuspecting iPad users,” said US Attorney Paul Fishman.
“When it became clear that he was in trouble, he concocted the fiction that he was trying to make the Internet more secure, and that all he did was walk in through an unlocked door. The jury didn’t buy it, and neither did the Court in imposing sentence upon him today.”
Co-defendant Daniel Spitler also pleaded guilty to the same charges and awaits sentencing.