AT&T iPad hackers' chats were turned in by secret source

The government's case against two men charged with hacking into AT&T's website to steal e-mail addresses from about 120,000 iPad users got a boost last year when a confidential source handed over 150 pages of chat logs between the two and other members of their hacking group.

Excerpts from the logs, published in the court record, apparently show them talking about the legal risk of their hacking adventures, as well as ways that they could maximize the embarrassment caused by the incident. The logs were handed over to federal investigators in July by an unnamed source who monitored the men's online IRC (Internet Relay Chat) conversations.

In a case that was unsealed Tuesday, Andrew Auernheimer, 25, and Daniel Spitler, 26, are charged with fraud and conspiracy to access a computer without authorization. Prosecutors say the two gained unauthorized access to AT&T's servers in early June 2010, and then downloaded 120,000 email addresses and unique ICC-ID (integrated circuit card identifier) numbers, used to identify mobile devices, which they then handed over to the press.

They could face five years in prison on the charges, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a press release. Prosecutors say that the hackers wrote a program called iPad 3G Account Slurper that launched a brute force attack against AT&T's servers, trying to guess ICC-ID numbers and then pairing them to user email addresses.

Spitler had not talked publicly about the incident, but in the days after it hit the press, Auernheimer gave several interviews, saying that the work was done by his hacking group in order to improve privacy for iPad users.

"We believe what we did was ethical," Auernheimer told Computerworld last June. "What we did was right."

But in chat excerpts posted by prosecutors, the men seemed most interested in gaining attention for their find. "[W]here can we drop this for max lols," asked Spitler in one exchange.

In another exchange, Spitler worried about whether the work is legal and asks to remain anonymous. "[D]unno how legal this is or if they could sue for damages," he said.

"[A]bsolutely may be legal risk yeah, mostly civil," Auernheimer replied, according to the transcript. "[A]bsolutely could get sued."

In another exchange, published after the media had reported the breach, Auernheimer apparently admitted that his group had not disclosed the issue to AT&T, according to court records. "[Y]ou DID call tech support right?" asked one hacker, named Nstyr. [cq] "[T]otally but not really," Auernheimer replied. "[I] don't... care [I] hope they sue me."

It's not clear who provided the logs to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, but around the time that happened someone anonymously posted the alleged names of the hacking group's members to the Full Disclosure mailing list, writing, "ATTENTION FBI - Want the real names folks involved in the iPad hack???" Spitler was among those identified in the post.

Robert McMillan covers computer security and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Robert on Twitter at @bobmcmillan. Robert's e-mail address is robert_mcmillan@idg.com

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