Wi-Fi hopper guilty of cyber-extortion

Give me $17m. Or else


A Maryland man with a grudge against a Connecticut-based patent firm used unsecured wireless networks at homes and businesses in the Washington DC area to penetrate the company's computers and deliver untraceable threats and extortion demands, until an FBI surveillance team caught him in the act.

Myron Tereshchuk, 42, pleaded guilty this month to a single charge of "attempted extortion affecting commerce" for demanding a $17m ransom in exchange for not broadcasting proprietary information he obtained from MicroPatent, LLC, an intellectual property firm that packages patent and trademark information for law firms.

Tereshchuk ran a small, competing patent document service that ran into trouble when he was allegedly caught removing files from US Patent and Trademark Office, and was temporarily banned from the facility. Tereshchuk believed he was the victim of corruption at the patent office, and blamed MicroPatent, according to court records. He began penetrating the company's computers, going through its trash, and pseudonymously sending harassing e-mails to its customers and president.

At one point, the company president tried to use a "Web bug" to trace his cyber tormenter, but Tereshchuk detected the ruse. Meanwhile, FBI agents traced some of the emails and intrusions to two homes and a dentist's office in Arlington, Virginia. The residents, and the dentist, made poor suspects, and the agents learned that all three were running unsecured 802.11b networks.

Though he went to some lengths to make himself untraceable technically, past altercations between Tereshchuk and the company made him the prime suspect from the start, according to court records. The clearest sign came when he issued the $17m extortion demand, and instructed the company to "make the check payable to Myron Tereshchuk."

The FBI began following Tereshchuk, and in March a surveillance team watched as he drove to a computer lab at the University of Maryland, where he used a purloined student account to send more threatening email. "During this drive he was observed driving erratically and was paying a lot of attention to something in the front passenger side seat," an FBI affidavit notes.

The Bureau got a search warrant for Tereshchuk's home, where they found evidence of his campaign against MicroPatent, as well as the components for hand grenades and the formula and ingredients necessary for making Ricin, according to prosecutors, who say the FBI is still investigating some aspects of the case. Tereshchuk is scheduled for sentencing on October 22nd.

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