Max Vision pleads Guilty
"White Hat" hacker admits to cracking Defense Department computers.
A computer security researcher and former FBI source plead guilty Monday to a single count of cracking Defense Department computers.
Max Butler, known as "Max Vision" to friends and associates, entered the guilty plea as part of an agreement with federal prosecutors. The remaining fourteen counts in Butler's indictment will be dismissed at sentencing, currently set for January 22nd.
Butler's indictment last February sent shockwaves through the close-knit community of computer security experts who specialize in intrusion detection--the careful analysis of Internet traffic for "signatures" indicative of an attack. Butler is noted for creating and maintaining arachNIDS, a popular open source catalog of attack signatures that forms part of an overall public resource that Butler created at WhiteHats.com.
Air Force investigation
According to an FBI affidavit filed in the case, the investigation that led to Butler began in May 1998, when the Defense Department began suffering a rash of intrusions exploiting a known vulnerability in the BIND domain name server. According to the statement, an Air Force computer crime investigator tracked Butler from a McChord Air Force Base computer, through a community college system, to an ISP and on to his home telephone line.
The affidavit also revealed that Butler had been a confidential FBI source for two years, and had "provided useful and timely information on computer crimes in the past."
Butler's attorney, Jennifer Granick, said that his cooperation with the FBI was as technical consultant, and that agents continued to tap his skills even after executing a search warrant at his home. "They decided to charge him when he decided to stop cooperating with them, not when he became a suspect in this case," said Granick. "The major issues in the case remain to be decided, which is how much damage, if any, was done, and whether the timing of the government's decision to charge him was manipulative or not."
Prosecutor Ross Nadel did not immediately return telephone calls Tuesday.
Butler's sentence under federal guidelines could range from six months to five years in custody, according to a number of factors including the amount of loss, criminal history, and the presence of aggravating or mitigating circumstances. He remains free on bail pending sentencing.
Monday's plea comes amidst a flurry of federal hacker prosecutions. Last week, prosecutors charged twenty-year-old Jason Diekman of California with cracking NASA and university systems; on Thursday, a sixteen-year-old boy known as "C0mrade" received a six-month sentence for cracking Pentagon and NASA computers; and earlier this month former globalHell leader Patrick "MostHateD" Gregory was sentenced to twenty-six months in prison and ordered to pay $154,529.86 in restitution for a string of web site defacements.
The major issues in the case remain to be decided.