If you've been around the broadband industry as a user or employee for any length of time, you might be familiar with Ryan Harris -- pen name DerEngel. Harris has published a book
(which we sort of reviewed
) on hacking cable modems, and is the head of a cable mod organization known as the TCNiSO
modding community. The community offers tips and tools on how to clone the Mac address of paying cable customers to get free service, or how to uncap the modem to get faster speeds.
Harris finds himself on the receiving end of criminal charges in Boston, including a conspiracy count, and charges of aiding and abetting computer intrusion and wire fraud. According to the freshly unsealed indictment
(pdf) against Harris, DerEngel earned over $1 million during the last six years by selling modified hardware. An FBI press release
says Harris faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, to be followed by 3 years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine and restitution on each count.
Harris's run in with Uncle Sam comes on the heels of a case that brought charges against Pennsylvania resident Thomas Swingler for selling hacked modems
. In Swingler's case, trouble came because his website proudly crowed about the modems' intended use while offering service theft tutorials. In most cases, cable modem modders fly under the radar -- provided they don't run their mouths about what they're doing.
As Wired's Threat Level
explores, Harris made the mistake of posting personally to his website, asking users for verified MAC addresses and configuration files. "I read the indictment its complete bullshit." 26-year-old Harris tells Wired. "Theyre filling in their own blanks. From my website I never would never sell to anyone who had the intent to break the law," he claims. Harris maintains that the unlocked hardware has legitimate uses, and likens his prosecution to arresting an arms dealer for murder. Uncle Sam is apparently unconvinced.