Computer security consultant and confessed cyber intruder Max Butler will serve out his 18-month prison term at the privately-run Taft Correctional Institution in central California, sources say.
Butler, known as 'Max Vision' to friends and associates, pleaded guilty last September to launching an automated intrusion program that cracked hundreds of military and defense contractor computers over a few days in 1998. Butler was sentenced in federal court in San Jose, California in May, and he surrendered to the custody of US Marshals last week.
In a telephone interview from a county jail where he was awaiting transit, the newly-incarcerated hacker admitted he crossed the line, but said he thought prison wasn't an appropriate remedy.
"I really feel out of place," said Butler. "I think there are a lot of crimes that the jails aren't a suitable punishment for... I think there are better ways to solve the problem, to address what I did."
A consultant who specialized in performing penetration tests on corporate networks, the 28-year-old Butler is known for his expertise in intrusion detection: the science of automatically analyzing Internet traffic for "signatures" indicative of an attack. Butler remains well-regarded among many security experts for creating and maintaining arachNIDS, a free, up-to-date catalog of attack signatures at WhiteHats.com.
Butler donned a hat of a different color in June of 1998, at a time when much of the Internet was still vulnerable to a hole that had been discovered months earlier in the ubiquitous BIND "named" domain server.
Apparently concerned that government networks weren't being patched against the hole, Butler launched a program that scanned for vulnerable Defense Department systems, cracked them, then closed the hole in each of them -- forestalling attacks from other hackers.
Less altruistically, Butler's program created a back door on every system it penetrated, which the hacker could have used to gain access later.
"I knew that I shouldn't have been doing what I was doing, but I had good intentions overall, and I closed this hole in thousands of systems, probably tens of thousands of system," said Butler from jail.
Butler attributed his actions to a combination of peer pressure and hacker hubris. "I'd heard of this sort of thing all my life," said Butler. "To see all these dot-mil's scroll up the screen... there was a certain sort of thrill to it."
With credit for good behavior, Butler will be eligible for assignment to a community halfway house as early as April of next year, and will be released in mid-October 2002. The hacker used his final days of freedom ensuring that arachNIDS would remain available until then.
"He spent the last weekend mostly just typing, and getting everything set up so people would have arachNIDS," said Butler's wife, Kimi Winters -- also a computer security consultant. "I thought it was really nice of him, but I would rather have spent it lying around the beach." Winters will maintain arachNIDS in her husband's absence.
Located in Kern County, California, the Taft Correctional Institution is an 1800-bed prison operated under a contract with the US government by Wackenhut Corrections, a for-profit corporation that manages over fifty prisons in at least ten countries. The company is a former subsidiary of the Wackenhut Corporation, a global security concern.
Butler will likely be housed at Taft's 500-bed minimum security work camp. He joins a who's-who of incarcerated hackers doing federal time in minimum security facilities from Oregon to Oklahoma:
Sentence: 26 months
Location: Federal Prison Camp, Beaumont, Texas
Story: Gregory was a leader in a gang of prolific Web site defacers called globalHell. He received a reduced sentence for informing on other gang members.
Projected Release Date: July 15th, 2002
Sentence: 18 months
Location: Federal Prison Camp, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada
Story: A member of a nationwide ring of sophisticated hackers the FBI dubbed 'the Phone Masters,' who penetrated telephone company systems, accessed credit reports and cracked the FBI's NCIC computer.
Projected release date: September 4th, 2001.
Sentence: 41 months
Location: Federal Prison Camp, Sheridan, Oregon
Story: Lindsley was purportedly the leader of the Phone Masters.
Projected release date: November 18th, 2002
Sentence: 24 months
Location: Federal Prison Camp, El Reno, Oklahoma
Story: Cantrell earned $9,000 selling stolen telephone calling card numbers. He was the first of the Phone Masters to be detected and investigated.
Projected release date: October 27th, 2001
Sentence: 21 months
Location: Federal Medical Center, Fort Worth, Texas
Story: Targeted for running a hacker web site, Miffleton pleaded guilty to trafficking in access codes, and admitted to obtaining root-level access to the ISP Verio.
Projected release date: November 13th, 2001
Sentence: 27 months
Location: Free on bail.
Story: Convicted of hacking his venture capitalist after the dot-com he worked for collapsed, Oquendo is the only hacker in recent memory to take his case to jury trial. He was convicted, but continues to maintain his innocence.
Scheduled to surrender: July 25th, 2001.
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