Teenager who took down CIA.gov gets 6 years’ probation
In exchange for admitting guilt in a string of computer crimes last week, the teenage hacker has been sentenced to probation until his twenty-first birthday. Now it won’t be until March 2018 that Cosmo — whose real name is withheld given his status as a minor — will be allowed unfettered access to any Internet-ready device.
“Ostensibly they could have locked him up for three years straight and then released him on juvenile parole,” attorney Jay Leiderman tells Wired. “But to keep someone off the Internet for six years — that one term seems unduly harsh.”
Leiderman has weighed in on a number of alleged computer crimes in the past, but the case of Cosmo will be one he won’t rightfully forget anytime soon. A brilliant social-engineer with a knack for finding his way into gaining access to a number of online accounts and portals, a profile of Cosmo published earlier this year in Wired offered a glimpse of insight into genius that might be considered misguided, especially in a court of law.
In some cases, he said the key to carrying out his crimes was saying the right thing to the right person. In at least once instance, as explained to Wired, a fake name and a little bit of know-how got him a long way.
“You have to impersonate a Netflix agent,” he explained while detailing one security exploit. In the case of bypassing Amazon’s security, he made it seem like a cakewalk.
“That’s when I figured out you just have to go to fakenamegenerator.com to get a credit card number,” he recalled.
According to the court, those means of mischief weren’t exactly legal. Throughout 2012, Cosmo became involved in the UGNazi clan, an underground hacker collective that managed to make headlines with computer attacks that rivaled those of the more well-known names of the last few years, such as Anonymous and LulzSec. At first he helped with distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) service attacks to take down CIA and NASDAQ. In another example last January, the group waged a full-fledged assault on Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) to oppose the sports group’s support of the since-defeated Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA. Hacking Microsoft made it to his laundry list of achievements before long, as did a degree of trickery that duped everyone from PayPal to Best Buy and most of the major telecom providers. That came to an end in June, however, when the FBI busted the group and another UGNazi operative, Mir Islam or “JoshTheGod,”for trafficking and possessing tens of thousands of stolen credit card numbers.
Last week, Cosmo was sentenced in juvenile court to more than five years of probation for his role in a number of related charges, as explained by Wired as including crimes related to credit card fraud, identity theft, bomb threats, and online impersonation. Now Cosmo has lost possession of every computer he owned during the FBI raid that landed him in hot water earlier this year, and using a computer without the prior consent of his parole officer could put him in prison for three years, instantly. When he is allowed Internet access, it will only be for educational purposes.
“You’re talking about a really bright, gifted kid in terms of all things Internet. And at some point after getting on the right path he could do some really good things,” Leiderman adds. “I feel that monitored Internet access for six years is a bit on the hefty side. It could sideline his whole life–his career path, his art, his skills. At some level it’s like taking away Mozart’s piano.”
As part of his condition, Cosmo is barred from communicating with members of Anonymous or UG Nazi. On Twitter, Leiderman suggests that maybe the authorities will have a change of heart when they realize that once-a-criminal doesn’t necessarily equate to always-a-criminal
“[M]aybe they'll let him channel that knowledge for good. Who knows,” he writes.