February 22, 2006 5:25 PM PST
Data thief gets eight years
Scott Levine, 46, was sentenced by a federal judge in Little Rock, Ark., after being found guilty of breaking into Acxiom's servers and downloading gigabytes of data in what the U.S. Justice Department calls one of the largest data heists to date. Acxiom, based in Little Rock, says it operates the world's largest repository of consumer data, and counts major banks, credit card companies and the U.S. government among its customers.
In August 2005, a jury convicted Levine, a native of Boca Raton, Fla., and former chief executive of a bulk e-mail company called Snipermail.com, of 120 counts of unauthorized access to a computer connected to the Internet. The U.S. government says, however, there was no evidence that Levine used the data for identity fraud.
Prosecutors had asked for a longer sentence, but expressed satisfaction with an eight-year prison stay. "This sentence reflects the seriousness of these crimes," said U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins of the Eastern District of Arkansas. It also includes a $12,300 fine; restitution has not yet been determined.
According to court documents, Levine and others broke into an Acxiom server used for file transfers and downloaded an encrypted password file called ftpsam.txt in early 2003. Then they ran a cracking utility on the ftpsam.txt file, prosecutors said, discovered 40 percent of the passwords, and used those accounts to download even more sensitive information.
When it was in operation, Snipermail.com drew fire from antispam advocates for falsely claiming to operate only "opt-in" lists. The company's now-defunct domain shows up on the Register of Known Spam Operations compiled by the Spamhaus Project, and dozens of sightings of spam from Snipermail.com appear on Usenet's news.admin.net-abuse.sightings discussion group.
Acxiom has said that after the 2003 intrusion, it improved its intrusion detection, vulnerability scanning and encryption systems.
This is not the first prosecution to arise out of poor security practices on Acxiom's file transfer protocol server (FTP). An Ohio man named Daniel Baas previously pleaded guilty to illegally entering Acxiom's FTP site. That investigation led federal police--including the FBI and Secret Service--to Levine, according to the Justice Department.
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