'Homeless hacker' pleads guilty to Times hack

Adrian Lamo, famous for his rootless lifestyle and boasts of high-profile electronic intrusions, honors a plea bargain involving hacking into The New York Times computer network.

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
2 min read
Adrian Lamo, the "homeless hacker" famous for his rootless lifestyle and boasts of high-profile electronic intrusions, on Thursday pleaded guilty to hacking into The New York Times Co.'s computer network.

Lamo, 22, pleaded guilty in federal court in New York City to one count of computer damage that caused more than $5,000 in losses to The New York Times Co. In a telephone interview Monday, Lamo said he would enter the plea as part of an agreement struck with prosecutors: "The alternative would essentially destroy my family. I've always said that for every action I've ever taken, I'm willing to own up to the consequences."

Under the plea agreement, Lamo agreed to serve an expected prison term of between six months and one year. But U.S. District Judge Naomi Buchwald will have the final say at a sentencing hearing set for April 8.

"I knew I crossed the line...I am genuinely remorseful," Lamo told the judge during Thursday's hearing.

Lamo pleaded guilty to hacking into The New York Times' internal computer network between February and April of 2002. In that incident, which The New York Times confirmed at the time, Lamo said he was able to view employee records, including Social Security numbers. He said he could access the contact information for the paper's sources and columnists, including such well-known contributors as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former Marine Col. Oliver North.

The charges against Lamo also involved running up The New York Times' bill for LexisNexis, a commercial database of news and other articles.

Get Up to Speed on...
Enterprise security
Get the latest headlines and
company-specific news in our
expanded GUTS section.

Initially, prosecutors claimed that the bill reached about $300,000, but on Thursday, they reduced their estimate to between $30,000 and $70,000.

In an earlier interviews with CNET News.com, before his surrender to the FBI in August, Lamo claimed to be responsible for intrusions into systems at MCI WorldCom in December 2001, Microsoft in October 2001, Yahoo in September 2001 and Excite@Home in May 2001. When he entered Yahoo's system, Lamo said, he was able to alter news articles on the company's site.

Any such intrusion could violate the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which punishes anyone who "intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access." Penalties involve fines and between one and five years in prison, depending on the charges.

Lamo is known for his unconventional lifestyle. Before the courts ordered him to return to the Sacramento, Calif., area to live with his parents, Lamo had no fixed address and instead wandered around the United States on Greyhound buses, sleeping on friends' couches and, when necessary, staying in vacant or derelict buildings.

On Thursday, Sean Hecker, Lamo's court-appointed defense attorney, reiterated in a telephone interview that Lamo was sorry and is willing to pay the price, "which is exactly what he did in court today...He's looking to move on with his life."

Reuters contributed to this report.