'Homeless hacker' surrenders

Facing two federal criminal charges of electronic breaking and entering, Adrian Lamo turns himself in at the U.S. courthouse in Sacramento, Calif.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
3 min read
Adrian Lamo, the so-called homeless hacker, surrendered Tuesday to face two federal criminal charges of electronic breaking and entering.

Lamo, 22, turned himself in at the U.S. courthouse in Sacramento, Calif., ending a five-day manhunt during which FBI agents staked out his family's home in the Sacramento suburbs and his defense attorney painstakingly negotiated terms of the surrender with federal prosecutors.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott said Lamo appeared at 2 p.m. PT before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gregory Hollows and was released to his parents after they posted a $250,000 bond. Lamo is not allowed to use a computer and must "report to the FBI in New York City" on Thursday morning to face a formal arraignment in court there, the spokeswoman said.

Since last week, Lamo and his defense attorney have stressed that he was willing to cooperate with federal police if they revealed the contents of a sealed complaint that described the charges. "The only reason that I hadn't come in before now was lack of communication," Lamo said in a telephone interview late Monday evening. "Communication has been good today, and as such, there's no compelling reason not to go in...I want to come in as a show of good faith."

Lamo, something of a legend among hackers for his brazen exploits, media savvy and rootless lifestyle, is facing two criminal charges. One is related to his admitted intrusions into The New York Times' network, and the other deals with his alleged misuse of a Lexis-Nexis account, said Mary French, a deputy public defender in Sacramento who is representing Lamo.

In the New York Times incident in February 2002, Lamo was able to view employee records--including Social Security numbers--and access the contact information for the paper's sources and columnists, including well-known contributors such as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former Marine Officer Oliver North and hip-hop artist Queen Latifah. He also has claimed break-ins at technology companies including, Microsoft, Yahoo and WorldCom (now known as MCI).

Besides his radically mobile lifestyle that often found him logged in through a Starbucks wireless connection, Lamo is known for his singularly altruistic style of hacking. He stressed that he's never deleted any data or asked for money in exchange for identifying security vulnerabilities. Some companies, in fact, have thanked him for telling them about holes in their network that a malicious intruder could use to wreak havoc.

Lamo's earlier exploits, which he typically disclosed, include breaking into WorldCom in December 2001, Microsoft in October 2001, Yahoo in September 2001 and Excite@Home in May 2001. When he reportedly entered Yahoo's system, Lamo found he was able to alter news articles on the company's site and tampered with one describing accused copyright felon Dmitry Skylyarov's court travails. The New York Times did not respond to a request for comment last week except to say it was cooperating with the FBI.

Many of the exploits, if proven, that Lamo claimed to have accomplished could run afoul of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which he is charged with violating. It punishes anyone who "intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access" with fines and--depending on the charges--between one and five years in prison.

Lamo has earned the "homeless hacker" moniker for his decision not to hold down a permanent job and instead wander the United States on Greyhound buses, sleeping on friends' couches and, when necessary, camping in vacant or derelict buildings. He boasted that he can live on a minimum number of calories per day--but added that he also needs dental work and has been growing hungry enough to consider applying for food stamps.

In one sign that he expected this week's confrontation with law enforcement long ago, Lamo registered FreeAdrian.com, which currently points to an old version of his adrian.adrian.org Web site, a month after the New York Times intrusion. In the last few days, however, FreeLamo.com has popped up, along with AdrianLamo.com.

"This has been a very unpleasant and traumatic experience for me, but being surrounded by supportive people has helped," Lamo said. "Faith manages."