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Kashpureff to face federal charges

The AlterNIC founder will face federal charges of wire and computer fraud for the alleged hijacking of the InterNIC's site, according to an FBI warrant.

AlterNIC founder Eugene Kashpureff is facing federal charges of wire and computer fraud, according to an FBI warrant.

Kashpureff was arrested Friday in Toronto by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police under the provisions of the immigration act, according to his attorney, William R. Gilmour. Kashpureff is being held in a detention center there and an extradition hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, Gilmour said.

If and when he is extradited to the United States, he will face federal charges for hijacking the URL of Internet registrar InterNIC. In what Kashpureff called a "protest," he modified the master database that acts like a phone directory for the entire Internet so that many surfers trying to get to "www.internic.net" instead landed at "www.alternic.net."

Almost immediately, Kashpureff knew he could be facing federal computer crime charges for his actions, he said. He went into hiding, but came out long enough to face the company that runs the InterNIC database in civil court.

On Friday, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police arrested Kashpureff after weeks of investigation, said Joe Valiquette, a spokesman for the FBI in New York.

According to an affidavit filed by the FBI and signed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Simon Chrein on September 12, Kashpureff is being charged with wire and computer fraud because he "unleashed software on the Internet that interrupted service for tens of thousands of Internet users worldwide and caused significant economic damage to others," the complaint states.

Damage is defined as any "impairment" that causes at least $5,000 in loss.

The complaint also states that Kashpureff's attack caused the InterNIC a "loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue."

Kashpureff, in his action, had directed all Web surfers typing in "www.internic.net" to his page. From there, they would read a message saying they were redirected to the page to protest the InterNIC's monopoly over the top-level domain names. Then they were given an option to click through to the InterNIC.

"Well, he did disrupt something," said Richard Sexton, who worked with Kashpureff on the AlterNIC. "That's for sure. And the total net effect was a couple seconds. I think they'll have a real hard time proving he disrupted commerce. I can't imagine how it would come to anything more than zero. It's a trumped-up charge. It won't hold water."

Sexton said the federal government is using this issue to set an example to punish those who mess with the Internet's infrastructure. But, he added, the action could easily backfire. "The Internet's an anarchy. If they want to make these charges stick, they've got to prove he was deliberately trying to disrupt commerce. This comes down to a political free speech issue in the domain name system."

But the complaint very clearly contends that Kashpureff's action did cause damage, and international damage at that.

"Kashpureff, a self-described 'Webslinger'...designed a corruption of the software system used throughout the world, which allows Internet-linked computers to communicate with each other," the complaint says. "By exploiting a weakness in that software, Kashpureff 'hijacked' Internet users attempting to reach the InterNIC Web site to the AlterNIC Web site, impeding those users' ability to register new Web site domain names or to review InterNIC's popular 'electronic yellow pages' for existing domain names."

If Kashpureff is arrested by the FBI, it won't be the first time he has been brought to court over this issue.

When Network Solutions (NSI), which runs the InterNIC registry, took Kashpureff to court last summer, the case was settled. Kashpureff apologized to the Internet community and tried to help inform it how to fix a program that would prevent someone else from perpetrating the same kind of domain name hijacking.

But apparently his troubles did not end in August with the court settlement.

Along with taking Kashpureff to civil court, Network Solutions had contacted law enforcement officials who were investigating whether Kashpureff had broken federal computer crime laws.

A Network Solutions spokesman said that after the August settlement, it has had no further dealings with either Kashpureff or federal authorities.

The FBI was contacted on July 17 by an "Internet enthusiast" based in Long Island, New York, who had experienced "the disruption of Internet service," the complaint states. Special agent Thomas H. Swink then read about other complaints, including one from an French Internet service provider that complained that his "European customers were unable complete registration for new domain names for many days because of the defendant's action."