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Hacker Admits Guilt in Fraud, Wiretap Case

November 15, 1996| From Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — A 20-year-old computer whiz admitted in federal court Thursday that he hacked his way into the computer systems of two major communications companies, gathering secret passwords and altering files.

Prosecutors said Christopher Schanot broke into national computer networks and had passwords to military computers, the credit reporting service TRW and Sprint. They gave no indication that he tried to profit from his hacking.

Instead, they linked him to the Internet Liberation Front, a group of anti-commercial hackers who have claimed responsibility for some high-profile computer pranks and who decry the commercialization of cyberspace.

In exchange for a reduced sentence, Schanot pleaded guilty to two counts of computer fraud and one count of illegal wiretapping. He faces up to 15 years in prison and $750,000 in fines at his sentencing on Jan. 31.

Federal authorities deemed Schanot so cunning that he could control virtually any computer system. In April, he was placed under 24-hour house arrest and ordered not to even talk about computers.

The break-ins took place between October 1994 and April 1995.

Originally accused in a five-count indictment, he pleaded guilty Thursday to charges surrounding break-ins at Southwestern Bell and Bellcore, a communications research company owned by seven regional telephone companies.

Schanot said he hacked into Southwestern Bell's computers in 1994, using a computer ID and password he got from a friend whose father worked at the telephone company. Then he installed a "sniffer" program and gathered about 1,700 additional user IDs and passwords, he said.

On another Southwestern computer, Schanot said he purposely damaged the firewall, a computer barrier designed to lock out intruders. The company spent $80,000 to repair the damage, authorities said.

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