By Kat Asharya
A Minnesota (USA) hacker received 18-years in jail for cyber-harassment against his neighbors, demonstrating the chaos that hacking can cause on a personal level.
Barry Ardolf, 46-year-old angered his neighbors, Matt and Bethany Kostolnik, after kissing their young son. Ardolf then allegedly hacked into the Kostolniks' Wi-Fi router and hijacked e-mail accounts to frame them for child pornography, sexual harassment and professional misconduct.
"Barry Ardolf has demonstrated by his conduct that he is a dangerous man. When he became angry at his neighbors, he vented his anger in a bizarre and calculated campaign of terror against them," said prosecutor Timothy Rank in a court filing. "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."
For example, Ardolf created a fake MySpace page for the husband, where he posted a picture of young teens engaged in sexual activity. He then e-mailed child porn to Kostolnik's co-workers at a law firm using Kostolnik's e-mail account, in addition to sending flirtatious messages to women in Kostolnik's office.
However, Ardolf pushed too far when he used the Kostolnik accounts to send a message threatening Vice President Joe Biden, which drew the involvement of the Secret Service and FBI. Working with packet sniffers installed by Kostolnik's law firm on its network, the federal agencies pinpointed Ardolf.
The FBI got a search warrant for Ardolf's house and computer, where they found large amounts of evidence, including hacking manuals and data copied from the Kostolnik's computers. They also found handwritten notes laying out Ardolf's detailed revenge plans, as well as messages for the family.
"I told you about a year ago that you should be very afraid. I can destroy you at will, you sorry-ass excuse for a human," one letter said.
Ardolf's campaign of cyber-intimidation may be small in scale in comparison to the spate of hacker intrusions into corporations and government websites over recent months, but it is a reminder of how deeply entrenched technology is with everyday life, and how more and more consumers must be vigilant against security threats.
"Over months and months, he inflicted unfathomable psychic damage, making the victims feel vulnerable in their own home, while avoiding detection," said Rank.
In addition to the 18-year prison sentence, Ardolf, who had no previous criminal record, forfeited his house and computer gear. Further investigation revealed he also hijacked the Wi-Fi networks of other neighbors and harassed them as well. He eventually pleaded guilty to identity theft and two child pornography accusations carrying lifetime sex-offender registration requirements.