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WebTV 911 prankster guilty
Kevin Poulsen, SecurityFocus 2005-02-17

A Louisiana man pleaded guilty this week to two federal felonies for tricking a handful of MSN TV users into running a malicious e-mail attachment that reprogrammed their set-top boxes to dial 9-1-1 emergency response.

In a plea agreement with prosecutors, David Jeansonne, 44, admitted to committing a computer attack that created a threat to public health or safety, and to damaging a protected computer and causing a least $5,000 in harm.

According to court records, Jeansonne was targeting 18 specific MSN TV users in an online squabble when he crafted the script in July 2002, and sent it out disguised as a tool to change the colors on MSN TV's user interface. Though the code didn't mass-mail itself to others, some of the recipients were sufficiently fooled that they forwarded it to friends, for a total of 21 victims.

Known as WebTV before it was acquired by Microsoft, MSN TV works with television set-top boxes to allow users to surf the Web and send and receive e-mail without using a PC.

The boxes connect to the Internet through a local dial-up number. The malicious script changed the dial-up to 9-1-1. If a victim didn't go online again after being infected, the box would summon help anyway when it tried to make an automatic daily call to the network at midnight.

The code also crossmailed itself to the 18 targeted users, so it would appear in some cases to have come from someone the victim knew. Additionally, it posted victims' browser histories to a particular website, and e-mailed their hardware serial number to the free webmail account "timmy@postmark.net."

According to an FBI affidavit filed in the case, Jeansonne was undone when cyber sleuths at Microsoft's MSN unit searched e-mail logs and found that the "Timmy" account had previously sent beta versions of the malware to Jeansonne's MSN TV account. Microsoft pillaged Jeansonne's e-mail, and found messages between him and an online friend that suggested Jeansonne was responsible for the hack. In December 2003 the FBI raided his home and seized his computers.

The hack resulted in police responding 10 times to false alarms at subscribers' homes, either in person, or by phoning them back. It's unclear what happened to the other 11 calls to 9-1-1.

In 2000, the FBI issued a public warning about a Windows virus circulating in the Houston area that similarly phoned for help though victims' modems.

The case is being prosecuted in the San Francisco Bay area, where Microsoft's MSN TV unit is based. Jeansonne has been in custody since November, when he allegedly violated the terms of his pre-trial release. His sentencing is set for May 14th.


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WebTV 911 prankster guilty 2005-02-18
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