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Johanne Torres[October 1, 2004]

Meet Tombros: The First Convicted U.S. Wardriver


Please meet Nicholas Tombros, not your regular techie. He had a hobby called wardriving—the act of driving around in a quest for unprotected hot-spots [better known as WiFi (define - news - alert) access points)] and use them to blast unsolicited e-mail advertising; everything from free porn to dangerous computer virus spreads. Tombros made history this week, however, when he pleaded guilty to charges of utilizing unauthorized access to a computer to distribute multiple commercial spam e-mail messages, making him the first convicted felon charged under the Can-Spam Act, signed last year.

A Southern Californian, Tombros used to do drive-bys around Venice searching for open-access WiFi services and go on spamming sprees galore spreading the word about numerous porn Web sites. The man was being watched by FBI officials investigating incidents involving 802.11b (define - news - alert) technology, the law enforcement project was coded as Operation Web Snare. Tombros is now scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 6, possibly facing a maximum penalty of three years in prison, according to the United States Attorney, Central District of California.

Tombros is the first convicted felon under the Can-Spam Act, but not the only one being investigated and arrested for committing the same illegal acts. Since it became law, Can-Spam has failed to generate significant litigation, despite the continued proliferation of spam marketing campaigns.

Last year, Adam Botybl and Paul Timmons ended up as suspects in a case of a wireless break-in to steal credit card data from a Lowe's department store in Michigan, they were arrested and both pleaded guilty of transmitting data to intentionally damage a protected computer. Other reported incidents include a case in Canada involving the use of an unsecured hotspot to retrieve child porn—when a Toronto police officer stopped a car for a traffic violation to later discover the driver being naked from the waist down and playing a porn video apparently streamed through residential wireless hot spot on his laptop.

This case should raise the wireless network providers' eyebrows on the extremely significant lack of security in these environments.

Johanne Torres is the contributing editor for TMCnet.com and Internet Telephony magazine. Previously, she was the assistant editor for EContent magazine in Connecticut. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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