Hacker Gets 8 Years in Prison, U.S. Attorney Warns ‘Hack and Steal At Your Own Peril, Consequence Is Prison Time’


Joshuah Allen Witt, a 35-year-old Seattle man, was sentenced to eight years in federal prison for his part in a three-man WiFi hacking and burglary ring.

His two fellow hackers have already been sentenced to federal prison, so this third and final sentencing concludes the court trials for a series of crimes that took more than $3 million from up to 50 local businesses.

U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan, who leads the Justice Department’s Cybercrime and Intellectual Property Enforcement working group, commended the businesses that quickly alerted law enforcement about the intrusions on their computer systems. Durkan said the hefty sentences send the following strong message:

“Hack and steal at your own peril, as the consequence is prison time.”

During the sentencing, the federal judge told Witt his crimes had far-reaching impact:

“For some of these individuals, it will be years, if not a lifetime, to recover from the conduct you engaged in.”

Wardriving, Payroll Theft, and More

What were some of the crimes the men committed? Consider the following offenses:

  • The men were accused of wardriving to find a company’s wireless network and then hack into the company’s network from outside. The men outfitted at least one vehicle with high-tech equipment, including extensive antennas, allowing them to search for wireless networks they could use both for hacking or to hide their “digital fingerprints” when they accessed a company network.
  • In other cases the men also burglarized some companies and installed malware on computers in order to sniff out passwords and other sensitive corporate information.
  • The men also took part in payroll fraud by hacking into automatic payroll deposits and moving the money into newly created bank accounts. They quickly moved that money into gift cards and purchased items online.
  • The crime ring obtained credit card numbers and used them to purchase tens of thousands of dollars of high-tech equipment and luxury goods that they used or sold.

Fair or Excessive?

Now, knowing all that, do you think an eight-year prison sentence was fair or excessive? Would those sentences deter other people who would consider commiting online crimes?

In the prosecutors’ sentencing memo, the attorneys reminded the judge of the following scary facts:

“Computers and computer networks are now integral to virtually every facet of business and commercial life. Businesses must necessarily be digital, in order to survive. Unfortunately, this digital revolution has also created new and unprecedented opportunities for crimes on a scale, and at a speed that were impossible in the strictly ‘physical’ world.

Hackers can access personal and financial data remotely, and then turn around and exploit it in innumerable ways, and in myriad venues, within a matter of hours. What the hackers can do in hours, takes victims and law enforcement weeks, months, and sometimes years to understand, analyze and successfully investigate.”

This month the judge is expected to determine the amount of restitution the men owe. The figure is expected to be in excess of $3 million.


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Elaine Rigoli

Elaine Rigoli is PRIVATE WiFi's manager of digital content strategy.