AT&T hacker Weev released from prison after appeals court overturns conviction

A federal appeals court has ruled that the venue for Auernheimer's prosecution wasn't appropriate

Andrew Auernheimer, known online as "weev," has won an appeal against his conviction for exploiting a vulnerability in AT&T's website to collect the email addresses of Apple iPad users. The 2010 incident earned him a 41-month prison sentence.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned the verdict on Friday, finding that the venue where Auernheimer was charged and prosecuted was not appropriate because the alleged offenses did not happen there. It did not consider the other grounds for the appeal.

In June 2010, Auernheimer, a member of a Web security group called Goatse Security, together with a man named Daniel Spitler, exploited a vulnerability on the AT&T website to collect the email addresses of 114,000 new Apple iPad owners who had registered their devices with the telecommunication provider.

The men found that the AT&T website automatically completed a log-in form with email addresses that were associated with SIM card serial numbers (ICC-ID) passed through a URL. The men built a program that took advantage of this feature to extract the email addresses of AT&T iPad users by submitting random ICC-IDs in what was essentially a brute force attack. The two men then contacted various media organizations to make the security issue public.

Spitler and Auernheimer were charged in Newark, New Jersey, with identity theft and conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). Spitler pleaded guilty and received probation, but Auernheimer unsuccessfully fought the charges in a jury trial and was sentenced to 41 months in prison, a sentence that he began serving in March 2013.

Auernheimer's defense team, which included Hanni Fakhoury, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, argued that accessing a publicly available website does not constitute unauthorized access to a computer system under the CFAA and that he shouldn't have been charged in New Jersey.

On Friday, the federal appeals court agreed that the venue for the case hadn't been appropriate and ordered Auernheimer released from prison.

"Although this appeal raises a number of complex and novel issues that are of great public importance in our increasingly interconnected age, we find it necessary to reach only one that has been fundamental since our country's founding: venue," the appeals court said in a written opinion. "New Jersey was not the site of either essential conduct element. The evidence at trial demonstrated that the accessed AT&T servers were located in Dallas, Texas, and Atlanta, Georgia. In addition, during the time that the conspiracy began, continued, and ended, Spitler was obtaining information in San Francisco, California, and Auernheimer was assisting him from Fayetteville, Arkansas. No protected computer was accessed and no data was obtained in New Jersey."

In a statement on the EFF site, Fakhoury said that Auernheimer's prosecution "presented real threats to security research" and that he hopes the appeals court's decision will reassure the security community.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags CriminalsecuritylegalIdentity fraud / theftdata protectioncybercrimeElectronic Frontier Foundation

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Lucian Constantin

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?