‘Ruthless’ Wifi–Hacking Neighbor Gets Eighteen Years in Prison

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A 46-year-old Minnesota man has been sentenced to eighteen years in federal prison for wreaking havoc on his neighbors and committing identity theft by stealing their wifi signal.

The sentencing caps off a bizarre tale that started in 2009, when the man downloaded wifi hacking software and spent two weeks cracking the neighbors’ WEP encryption.

Then he used their own wifi network to create fake social media accounts and email accounts, blazing a trail of threats and crimes along the way.

The FBI obtained a search warrant and found copies of data swiped from the neighbors’ computer, along with hacking manuals entitled Cracking WEP Using Backtrack: A Beginner’s Guide; Tutorial: Simple WEP Crack Aircracking; and Cracking WEP with BackTrack 3 — Step-by-Step Instructions.They also found handwritten notes plotting his revenge plans, and hard-copy postal mail stolen from the neighbors’ mailbox.

In 2010, he was indicted in federal court on two counts of aggravated identity theft, one count of making threats to the president and successors to the presidency, one count of unauthorized access to a protected computer, one count of possession of child pornography, and one count of distribution of child pornography.

According to federal sentencing court documents, “when he became angry at his neighbors, he vented his anger in a bizarre and calculated campaign of terror against them. And he did not wage this campaign in the light of day, but rather used his computer hacking skills to strike at his victims while hiding in the shadows. Over months and months, he inflicted unfathomable psychic damage, making the victims feel vulnerable in their own home, while avoiding detection.”

At the sentencing hearing, the prosecutor requested a 24-year term, noting that the guilty man’s “ruthless cruelty” ranked him among the most dangerous people he’d ever prosecuted.

The judge sentenced him to eighteen years instead, though he will be on supervised release for twenty years following his time locked up. As a condition of his release, he can’t work with computers unless his probation officer approves.

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Elaine Rigoli

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