Homeless Hacker Pleads Guilty

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Adrian Lamo, the so-called "homeless hacker," pleaded guilty this week to charges that he broke into the internal computer network of The New York Times.

The 22-year-old could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine at a sentencing hearing in April, according to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. However, Lamo is likely to be sentenced to less time than the five year statutory limit, said Herbert Hadad, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office.

In an appearance in Manhattan federal court before Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald, Lamo acknowledged hacking into the Times' network in February 2002 and accessing a database containing personal information for more than 3000 individuals who contributed editorials to the paper's Op-Ed page. Lamo also acknowledged setting up user accounts through the Times account with the LexisNexis online information service, which Lamo used for more than 3000 searches over a three month period, according to information provided by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Damages were said to be "in excess of $5000," a far cry from the more than $300,000 in damages that the U.S. Attorney's office said in September that Lamo caused.

Twists and Turns

The plea begins to close a case featuring its share of twists and turns, even though the facts of the case were not in doubt.

Lamo spent a number of days in hiding after the government issued a warrant for his arrest in September, before finally surrendering to authorities in Sacramento, California. The government also raised eyebrows by demanding the notes of reporters who had interviewed Lamo about his exploits at the Times and elsewhere as part of its investigation.

Lamo gained notoriety long before hacking The New York Times for his rootless life on the streets of San Francisco and for admitting to hacking the networks of high-profile companies such as Yahoo, Microsoft, and Worldcom.

Lamo confessed to the Times break-in during an interview with Securityfocus.com, a computer security news Web site, in February 2002. That confession prompted an internal investigation by the Times that uncovered evidence of Lamo's activities, and resulted in a case being opened by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation.

After pleading guilty, Lamo was released on bail and is required to live at his parents' home in California and have limited access to computers until his sentencing hearing in April, says Sean Hecker, Lamo's attorney.

"Adrian has always stated that prepared to accept responsibility for his actions, that's what he did by pleading guilty in court yesterday," Hecker says.

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