Hackers' Excellent Adventures

How Underage Pranksters Ended Up in the Middle of an FBI Cybercrime Investigation

Lesiak told the Voice that twice in the last year FBI agents arrived at his Passaic County home to question him and seize computer equipment. While saying that "I didn't mess with credit cards," Lesiak admitted authoring a password-stealing program, which he circulated among other hackers. Prior to the FBI's first visit, in mid 1997, Lesiak said that a friend told him of being questioned by agents. "I got all paranoid, so I killed most of the stuff off my computer," said the high school sophomore. But when two weeks passed and the FBI had not contacted him, Lesiak said he restored some of the password- stealing programs.

Shortly after he reinstalled the incriminating programs, FBI agent Linda Walsh and a partner arrived at Lesiak's door asking to examine his computer, a request with which the teen's parents complied.

A month ago, Walsh returned to Lesiak's home, this time with a subpoena for his computer equipment. Lesiak was not sure what the FBI was investigating him for this time, and he could not locate his copy of the subpoena (though during a phone interview he did try to locate the document, calling out matter-of-factlyto his mother, "Mom, do you have the subpoena from when the FBI was here?").

While Lesiak admitted that his heart was in his throat when the agents first showed up at his house, the 16-year-old has gotten a bit bolder. He called Walsh's FBI partner "a fat idiot. He's like white trash times three. You'd expect him to have half a brain to be investigating this kind of stuff, but he had no idea what he was talking about."

Berger also has had two FBI visits and claimed not to go online anymore because "I don't wanna lose more computers." The high school sophomore said agents found password stealers on his hard drive and he admitted that a "couple of times" he used stolen credit card numbers to buy merchandise for himself, though he termed that activity "nothing serious." But by having the merchandise delivered to his home, Berger said, "that's how I got caught."

The most recent round of FBI searches in the New York area was apparently triggered by a late-February incident online in which tens of thousands of people nationwide--from Buffalo to Honolulu--received a death threat in their electronic mail.

The trouble started, oddly enough, when Ian Massey called Gilson a "poophead."

The pair, along with Chris Bladis, a Summit, New Jersey, teen known as K1ng, were in a private chat room at 2 a.m. when they decided to have a three-way telephone conversation. During that talk, Massey and Gilson--both high school dropouts now studying for a GED--traded insults. "I called him a poophead," Massey said, noting seriously that he used "the old-school
insult . . . because people haven't heard them in a long time and they don't quite know how to respond." Massey said he chose the childish term over "shithead" or "fuckface" because "I get called shithead every day."

Sitting in his bedroom, Gilson responded by typing out a message that included Massey's name, address, and home phone number and the threat, "I have your credit card number and all your personal information. Call me right now . . . if you don't I will kill you and your family." Gilson, using a stolen AOL account, said he immediately sent the e-mail to more than 1000 addresses.

Gilson said that over the next two days his pal Bladis sent the threatening message to tens of thousands of other e-mail addresses. Bladis's father Richard said that while the 17-year-old has had his computer equipment seized by the FBI and been the subject of an investigation by U.S. postal inspectors, he doubted that his son was involved in circulating the death threat. The postal probe involved charges that the teenager used stolen credit cards to make purchases. As a result, the elder Bladis said, he was forced--on his son's behalf--to make restitution totaling "a couple of thousand dollars" for these charges.

One of Bladis's hacker buddies told the Voice that Bladis was a clearinghouse for stolen credit card numbers, once offering him a file of 16,000 numbers in exchange for some stolen AOL accounts.

After Gilson's and Bladis's handiwork, Massey said he was deluged with calls from people asking, "Why did you threaten to kill my family?" The 18-year-old contacted the Louisville FBI office and, within two days, agents executed a search warrant at Gilson's Brooklyn home, looking for evidence of several federal crimes, including wire fraud and unauthorized access to a computer. During the March 1 raid, investigators seized the 17-year-old's computer, monitor, two keyboards, and the Panasonic fax machine that was paid for with a stolen credit card.

"Now that I think about it, it was definitely stupid," Gilson said of his spam (mass e-mail) attack.

Sitting in the apartment he shares with his mother, Gilson, who turned 17 in January, is dressed in a hooded Adidas sweatshirt, a Nike baseball cap, and Nike sneakers. He is wearing two silver hoops in his left ear, one in the lobe, one at the top of his ear. He looks sleepy and explains that he had been out with friends until four in the morning. Getting up for school was not a consideration, though, since he dropped out of the 10th grade last year.

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