former employee = current data thief

Fifth Circuit Upholds CFAA Conviction for Former Employee’s Misuse Causing Damage Based on Circumstantial Evidence

In United States v. Anastasio N. Laoutaris, 2018 WL 614943 (5th Cir. Jan. 29, 2018), the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a jury verdict finding Laoutaris guilty of two counts of computer intrusion causing damage, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(5)(A) and (c)(4)(B)(i) of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

Laoutaris had been an IT engineer for Locke Lord LLP; following the termination of his employment, he accessed to the firm’s computer network and issued instructions and commands that caused significant damage to the network, including deleting or disabling hundreds of user accounts, desktop and laptop accounts, and user e-mail accounts. This post-termination access was without authorization. He was ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $1,697,800 and sentenced to 115 months’ imprisonment.

On appeal, Laoutaris argued that “the evidence at trial was insufficient to support the jury’s verdict for both counts of conviction because there was no proof he was the person who accessed Locke’s network and caused the damage that occurred on the relevant dates.” Further, Laoutaris had an expert testify that the attacks came from China.

The Fifth Circuit disagreed and found “[t]he evidence at trial shows a rational jury could have found each essential element for the § 1030(a)(5)(A) offenses charged against Laoutaris, who elected to testify. Contrary to his assertions, there was ample circumstantial evidence identifying him as the perpetrator of these offenses.”

The government’s brief indicates that the following evidence was admitted on this issue, beginning at page 6:

At trial, the government presented a substantial volume of circumstantial evidence identifying Laoutaris as the intruder. Logs created by the servers on the Locke Lord network showed that the intruder on December 1 and December 5 connected to the network using LogMeIn, which was installed on the HOBK01 backup server in Houston, and accessed the network using the credentials of a Windows “master services account” called svc_gn and its associated password. (ROA.1463-1515, 2835-47.) The IP address of the intruder on December 1 and December 5 was 75.125.127.4. (ROA.2768, 2835.)
That IP address was assigned to The Planet. (ROA.1077-79.) Laoutaris was an employee of The Planet at the time. (ROA.1068-70; see also ROA.2635-83.) Kelly Hurst, Laoutaris’s supervisor at The Planet, testified that the IP address was The Planet’s public wireless network at the Houston corporate office, which employees would be able to use while working out of The Planet’s corporate office. (ROA.1077-78.)
*7 Laoutaris was also associated with the LogMeIn software running on the Houston backup server. The software program was installed by a person who identified his email address as “c_hockland@hotmail.com.” (ROA.1304-07, 2848.) Records from Microsoft established that the account was created by “A.N. Laoutaris.” (ROA.2587.) Further, several Locke Lord employees testified that “c_hockland@hotmail.com” was an email address they knew to be associated with Laoutaris. (ROA.1306.) Additionally, Laoutaris’s personnel file included his resume, where he used the email address, and an email he sent on his last day providing c_hockland@hotmail.com as his forwarding email address. (ROA.2550.) Even after he quit, Laoutaris used that email address to send a message to a former colleague at Locke Lord making disparaging comments about the firm and his former supervisor. (ROA.2559-60.) Laoutaris continued using the email address as recently as July 2014, after he was indicted. (ROA.2681.)
The government also presented evidence establishing that Laoutaris had the password for the “svc_gn” account. The “svc_gn” account was the “master of all masters” account that had “no limits” on what it could do within the Locke Lord network. (ROA.1147.) IT engineers at Locke Lord explained that all of the engineers would from time to time use the “svc_gn” account when performing various tasks on the network and that all the *8 engineers had the password. (ROA.1147.) The jury heard evidence that Laoutaris asked for, and received, the password for the “svc_gn” account shortly before quitting the law firm. On August 10, 2011, a few days before Laoutaris quit, he requested the password from Michael Ger and Stan Guzic, two of the other IT engineers at Locke Lord. (ROA.2556-57.) Guzic testified that Laoutaris “constantly asked us for the password” and thus “to help him remember it, we used his name within the password itself” – specifically, “4nick8.” (ROA.1151.)
Not only was Laoutaris specifically tied to the December 1 and December 5 attacks, the government presented evidence tying him to at least 12 unauthorized intrusions into the Locke Lord network through LogMeIn. (ROA.2703-16, 2746, 2756, 2758, 2760, 2762, 2764, 2766, 2768, 2835, 2849.) Each of those intrusions originated from an IP address that was tied back to Laoutaris – either his home or his place of employment. (ROA.2703-16.)
The government’s brief also provides an excellent example of how to calculate a loss in a case such as this, beginning at page 12.

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Shawn Tuma (@shawnetuma) is an attorney with an internationally recognized reputation in cybersecurity, computer fraud, and data privacy law. He is a Cybersecurity & Data Privacy Attorney at Scheef & Stone, LLP, a full-service commercial law firm in Texas that represents businesses of all sizes throughout the United States and, through its Mackrell International network, around the world.

What do we in the United States really want from our cyber laws?

In my newsfeed are articles in prominent publications discussing the problems with the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act from very different perspectives.

www.businesscyberrisk.comIn the “the CFAA is dangerous for security researchers” corner we have White Hat Hackers and the Internet of Bodies, in Law360, discussing how precarious the CFAA (and presumably, the state hacking laws such as Texas’ Breach of Computer Security / Harmful Access by Computer laws) and Digital Millenium Copyright Act can be for security researchers.

In the “the CFAA prevents companies from defending themselves” corner we have New Bill Would Allow Hacking Victims to ‘Hack Back’, in The Hill, discussing The Active Cyber Defense Certainty Act (ACDC). ACDC (what a great acronym!) would allow companies more latitude in defending themselves against those intruding into their networks by permitting them to use techniques described as “active defense,” under certain conditions, though not permitting companies to counterattack.

Now, instead of thinking about these two measures in isolation, think of them together. What if we were to get both of them passed into law? What if we got one or the other?

This reminds me of a piece I wrote about the CFAA and the broader national policy discussion a few years ago, Hunter Moore or Aaron Swartz: Do we hate the CFAA? Do we love the CFAA? Do we even have a clue? In that piece I stated,

The CFAA has become a national lightening rod with many loving it, many hating it, and far too many loving it and hating it at the same time, without even realizing it. Before we go any further, however, consider this quote:

The CFAA was tailor-made to punish precisely the kind of behavior that [guess who?] is charged with: breaking into other people’s accounts and disseminating their … information.

Quick! Who is that referring to? Hunter Moore? Edward Snowden? Aaron Swartz? Sandra Teague?

I used this overly simplified example to try and make a point that, philosophically, we as a nation need to stop looking at each of these cases and laws in isolation and need to look at the bigger picture of how it all fits together. Picking and choosing based upon our own personal likes and dislikes due to the emotional tug of the facts is no way to develop, maintain, and mature a body of law on any subject matter — much less one as complicated as cyber.

Take this discussion and add into the mix new security-based laws such as NYDFS and then mix in the 48 states + HIPAA, GLBA, etc. breach notification laws, the conundrum of cybersecurity law schizophrenia, and then see what we have to work with. Does it all make sense?

What do you think? Where do we begin? Who needs to be involved in working this out? What are the first questions we need to ask?

Hacking Into A Company You Sold Can Get You Jail Time

A federal judge sentenced David Kent to a year and a day in prison and ordered him to pay $3.3 million in restitution and pay a $20,000 fine for accessing the computer network of Rigzone.com, an industry-specific networking website. Kent founded Rigzone.com, sold it for $51 million, and after the sale accessed the company’s network to obtain information to use for launching a competitor to Rigzone.com. The Complaint describes how Kent was able to do this by exploiting a source code vulnerability that he knew of from the original creation of the website. This is a big no-no. Under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, this type of unauthorized access is considered hacking just as if the Russians did it with super-secret James Bond-like gadgets and gizmos.

USA v. Kent, 1:16-cr-00385, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

 

FUD and Voting Machine Hacking: An Important Point and Important Lesson

This morning I am doing radio interviews as a Fox News Radio contributor. My topic? The DEFCON Voting Village demonstration of hacking voting machines that have been, or may currently be, used in US elections. Here are a couple of the news stories if you are unfamiliar: Hacking a US electronic voting booth takes less than 90 minutes | New Scientist and To Fix Voting Machines, Hackers Tear Them Apart | Wired

With all of the talk about hacking or rigging elections, this is a great topic to pique people’s interest for a radio interview but it can also generate a great deal of FUD. And, I really do not like FUD because it detracts from the real issues and lessons that we can learn from situations. So, there is one very important point and one very important lesson that I have tried to make during these interviews and that I hope will rise above the FUD:

IMPORTANT POINT: The voting machines used in this example were obtained from eBay and government auctions because they had been decommissioned. This means they were old. Unfortunately, some had been used in recent elections — which is a big problem — but generally speaking, we’re talking about outdated technology.

IMPORTANT LESSON: Voting machines are computers and, while (IMO) no computer will be secure they can certainly be more secure. We must be vigilant about the security of the voting machines and other election infrastructure that we use in our voting process and demand that current, state of the art equipment be used, where security is baked in from the outset and is continuously maintained as an ongoing process, from now on until further notice.

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Shawn Tuma (@shawnetuma) is an attorney with an internationally recognized reputation in cybersecurity, computer fraud, and data privacy law. He is a Cybersecurity & Data Privacy Attorney at Scheef & Stone, LLP, a full-service commercial law firm in Texas that represents businesses of all sizes throughout the United States and, through its Mackrell International network, around the world.

Fifth Circuit: Employee Taking Data to Work for Competitor Violates Texas Hacking Law

former employee = current data thiefBefore leaving his employment at Merritt Hawkins & Associates (MHA), Larry Gresham allegedly accessed MHA’s computer network and copied 400 of MHA’s proprietary files and then deleted hundreds of files in an attempt to hide his activities. A jury found Gresham’s actions violated the Harmful Access by Computer Act (HACA), Texas unauthorized access law (i.e., “hacking law”). The Fifth Circuit affirmed the jury’s verdict. Merritt Hawkins & Associates, L.L.C. v. Gresham, 2017 WL 2662840 (5th Cir. June 21, 2017).

Here are three key points from this case about the Texas Harmful Access by Computer Act (civil) or Breach of Computer Security (criminal) laws:

  1. An employee may violate HACA / BCS by accessing his employer’s computer system without its “effective consent” (i.e., (a) by using it for a purpose other than that for which consent was given, (b) in violation of a clear and conspicuous prohibition, or (c) in violation of an express agreement) and taking data to use for non-company business related purposes.
  2. An award of $50,000 in damages for the missing and stolen computer files was supported by sufficient evidence, in the following form:
    1. the owner of the company’s testimony that he would have to pay an employee at least $100 an hour to recreate every file that was deleted and that it would be more expensive to search the company’s database to see if any files remained, even though he admitted that it was difficult to calculate the damages, especially for those that were taken but not deleted;
    2. a computer forensics expert testified that he billed the company over $60,000 for his work assessing the damage to its computer system, excluding litigation costs; and
    3. the company’s IT employee testified about the expenses he incurred and the hours he worked trying to restore the computer files.
  3. “A prevailing party on a Harmful Access by Computer claim ‘is entitled’ to attorneys’ fees.” Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 143.002.

See these resources for more information about the Texas Harmful Access by Computer Act and Breach of Computer Security laws:

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Shawn Tuma (@shawnetuma) is an attorney with an internationally recognized reputation in cybersecurity, computer fraud, and data privacy law. He is a Cybersecurity & Data Privacy Attorney at Scheef & Stone, LLP, a full-service commercial law firm in Texas that represents businesses of all sizes throughout the United States and, through its Mackrell International network, around the world.