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Small-time California hacker makes it big -- on FBI's most wanted

In 2003, a San Diego college student wrote a computer program called “Loverspy” or “Email Pi” and sold it online for $89 a copy. Meant to help buyers catch lovers suspected of cheating, it self-installed virtually undetectable software that could capture every email or instant message sent by the infected computer. It could even operate the computer’s webcam remotely. All the suspicious lover had to do was send their lover an electronic greeting card. If they opened it, the software would be installed.

The student didn’t make all that much money, only managing to sell about 1,000 copies. According to ABC News, buyers sent about 2,000 infected greeting cards, but recipients only opened them about half the time.

For federal law enforcement, this wasn’t a big case at the time. Those caught for having purchased the software were charged with illegal interception of electronic communications, and most were sentenced only to fines and supervised release. The student was in 2005 for an array of computer crimes, summed up pithily by an FBI cybercrimes section chief to ABC as operating a “hacking-for-hire” service.

Nevertheless, he’s now on the FBI cybercrimes division’s “Cyber's Most Wanted” list -- with a $50,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

That section chief explained the presence of this relatively low-level hacker on the list as essentially because the agency hasn’t been able to track him down. The now-33-year-old man is an El Salvador native who was in the U.S. on a student visa when the alleged crimes occurred.

Yet as ABC points out, similar software is available legally. One program, Flexispy, will capture all the information Loverspy promised and more -- for $349 a year. Others called ePhoneTracker and WebWatcher allow parents not only to monitor their children’s online activity but also to track their physical locations in real time.

Individuals can only legally use such programs with the consent of the person being monitored, or if the buyer owns the device it’s installed on. Domestic violence advocates, however, worry that such software is also used illegally to stalk victims.

The fact that the FBI is willing to spend a great deal of effort and money to track down a foreign national accused of writing an eight-year-old computer program causing comparatively little harm, however, is illustrative. If you’re ever charged with hacking or any cybercrime, be sure to contact an experienced attorney immediately.

Source: ABC News, "FBI Wants Hacker Who Helped Catch Cheating Lovers," Anne Flaherty, Associated Press, Nov. 7, 2013

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