A computer whiz is convicted of several crimes.
Kevin Poulsen grew up in the Los Angeles suburb of North Hollywood. On his 16th birthday, he received his first computer. Like most devoted hackers, he adopted a colorful pseudonym. Kevin Poulsen became “Dark Dante.” Eventually, he uncovered a telephone number which gave him access to a restricted computer network funded by the Pentagon. But Kevin’s activities were soon detected when he logged on with his real name rather than Dark Dante. Blissfully unaware, Kevin continued his hacking activities, giving authorities even more ammunition against him.
Then on the morning of September 22, 1983, the Los Angeles District Attorney confiscated Kevin’s computer. Because of his age, he was not officially charged, only warned that his computer activities were illegal. The warning apparently fell on deaf ears. On February 8, 1988, the owners of a storage facility in Northern California made a routine stop at a locker on which the rent had not been paid. Standard procedure in such cases is to confiscate the material in the locker, but the contents of this locker were something the men had never seen before. It appeared to be stolen telephone company equipment. The owners notified the authorities. Telephone company investigator Jon Von Brauch, along with the local police, arrived immediately:
The storage unit had been rented to Kevin Poulsen, who was now 21-years-old. When Von Brauch and police searched his apartment, they found a wiretapping facility in a spare bedroom:
Connected to Poulsen’s computer was an unauthorized “test set,” which could be used to tap into private phone lines. Only the telephone company and law enforcement officials are allowed to use “test sets.” But the smoking gun was a series of photographs Poulsen had taken of himself breaking into a telephone switching trailer, then using the equipment inside. Kevin’s ego provided the phone company with the evidence they needed to bring in Special Agent William Smith of the FBI:
Investigators found out that someone matching Poulsen’s description had illegally entered several Northern California telephone facilities using a false ID. Once inside, the intruder found telephone numbers he could use to hack into the telephone company’s computer system. He also had stolen manuals, switching equipment, and a test set like the one found in Poulsen’s apartment. Using the stolen equipment, Poulsen had allegedly infiltrated U.S. military computer transmissions to obtain classified Army information. The FBI suspected that Poulsen might have been engaging in espionage. On October 19, 1989, a two-year investigation resulted in a 19-count indictment against Kevin Poulsen and two fellow hackers. They were charged with conspiracy, computer fraud, wiretapping, embezzlement, and theft of public property and records. The two other men were arrested but Poulsen disappeared.
Shortly after this story aired, the FBI received information that Kevin Poulsen was living near Los Angeles. Special Agent Terry Atchley of the FBI was called to stake out a Hughes Market in Van Nuys, where Poulsen was reportedly last seen:
As Poulsen was checking out and about to leave the store, he was tackled by two employees. A security guard escorted him to a storeroom where he was held until FBI agents arrived and placed him under arrest. Kevin Poulsen pleaded guilty to seven counts of mail, wire and computer fraud, money laundering, and obstruction of justice. He was sentenced to 51 months in prison and ordered to pay $56,000 in restitution. When Poulsen was released from prison, he was also given five years probation.
After prison, Kevin Poulsen re-invented himself as a journalist and put his criminal past behind him. He wrote a computer script capable of searching the membership of Myspace for sex offenders. He ultimately confirmed the identities of 744 sex offenders with Myspace profiles.