Hacker gets three years in prison for selling 'rooted' cable modems

By on June 29, 2012, 8:00 AM

A 28-year-old Oregon man has been sentenced to three years in prison for selling illegal products and services that allowed users to bypass restrictions imposed by ISPs. Ryan Harris, known online as DerEngel, reportedly earned between $400,000 and $1 million over several years through the illegal activity, which included the modification of cable modems to remove filters set by ISPs, allowing users to enjoy faster connections sans limitations without the provider's blessings.

It's reported that through his company, TCNISO, Harris sold hacked cable modems for up to $100 that supplied buyers with free Internet. He also offered various hacking products including "Sigma," "Blackcat" and "DreamOS" that granted free or enhanced Internet access. One product, "Coax Thief," intercepted MAC addresses and configuration data from neighbors. Harris went as far as writing a book titled "Hacking the Cable Modem: What Cable Companies Don't Want You to Know."

"Mr. Harris acted with absolute, knowing malice," said prosecutor Mona Sedky, adding that he was motivated by greed and a desire to "punish" cable companies. "He acted on a grievance, as a lot of young people do," said Charles McGinty, Harris' federal public defender. McGinty insisted that while Harris was misguided, he was motivated by anger that ISPs could control the speed and quality of a customer's connection.

Laurie Jill Wood, director of security for Charter Communications, commented on the case Wednesday, claiming the company spent years combating Harris' wrongdoings. Because he cloned so many modems, Harris caused various headaches for Charter, including the accidental disconnection of legitimate subscribers. Even worse, Charter has been unable to identify users suspected of unrelated computer crimes.

"I think you committed a very serious crime," US District Judge Mark L. Wolf told Harris. In addition to a three-year prison sentence starting September 4, Harris will have three years of supervised release and must pay roughly $200,000 in fines and restitution.

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