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Hacker admits to AOL piracy

A college student admits he wrote software to illegally access AOL. But the truth will not set him free; AOL is calling the case a legal milestone.

A college student today pleaded guilty to illegally creating a program that allowed him to access America Online for free.

Known online as Happy Hardcore, 20-year-old Nicholas Ryan of Yale University entered his plea in federal district court in Alexandria, Virginia. The felony offense carries a fine of up to $250,000 and five years in prison. Sentencing is set for March.

Ryan used his illegal software, dubbed "AOL4Free" between June and December 1995. He also made it available to others. The investigation was carried out by the Secret Service and Justice Department's computer crime section.

AOL called the case a "legal milestone," representing the first successful computer fraud prosecution involving an online network.

"We hope this conviction sends a message to our members that AOL is dedicated to stopping hackers and their activities on the service and creating a safe online experience," said Tatiana Gau, the newly named vice president for Integrity Assurance at AOL.