Hackers' Excellent Adventures

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

His small bedroom, which looks out onto noisy Avenue U, is dominated by a large graffiti tag on the wall over his single bed. It reads "Ski," his all-purpose vandalism handle.

The teenager recalled his first encounter with the FBI in early 1997, when agents questioned him about password-stealing programs and credit card fraud. Gilson said he was shocked when agent Walsh showed him a detailed paper trail of his illegal exploits on AOL. "It was sick," he said. "It was like they'd been stalking me." Gilson said agents wanted him to cooperate and keep a log of the names, addresses, and phone numbers of other hackers with whom he would subsequently be in contact. He promised to do that, but, Gilson admitted, "I never bothered."

When agents searched his home in March, Gilson said that he was placed up against the living-room wall and frisked. Agents asked him no questions and left with all of his computer equipment, save two audio speakers. Within weeks, accompanied by a lawyer, he attended a meeting with FBI agents and prosecutor Marcia Isaacson of the major crimes unit of the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's office. "I had to tell them everything that I knew," said Gilson.

The teenager said he does not know what, if any, charges he will face. But he expects to make an appearance in federal court soon. "I don't think they're sending me to jail. Because, like, for this? I mean, murderers are in jail."

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