Making an Example Out of Mondello: Feds Cracking Down Hard on Online Offenders

When Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989, he certainly did not foresee cyber crimes happening on a daily basis. The fact is: no one did. Yet online offenders are not only thriving in virtual space, they are multiplying as well… also on a daily basis. Although there are relatively small percentages of these cyber criminals who have organized themselves into professional movements of sorts, most are private individuals out to fleece the unwary. On this account, there's bad news and even worse news.

The bad news is this: everything that a would-be online-offender needs to commit a felonious crime is right there, printed in expansive terms (some with video instructions) on various web sites and pages of the Internet. The even worse news is this: since most virtual miscreants are private individuals, tracking them down can be problematic. It's like trying to find which worm made one particular tunnel on the mulching bed. The process can be exceedingly tedious, even with the most advanced technological gadgets possible and the most skilled cyber investigators.

Types of Cyber Crimes And The Agencies Assigned To Their Detection

Detection and apprehension of cyber crimes can be a very tricky business. Often, crimes and the agencies assigned to specific cases can overlap. Cyber criminals can escape a tightening net by simply remaining anonymous or inactive for a short period of time.

Here is a list of Internet-based crimes and the federal and local law enforcement agencies assigned to them:

  • Child pornography and child exploitation (including Internet fraud matters with mail nexus) is assigned to the FBI local office and the Internet Crime Complaint Center (ICCC); if the “product” or even the child in question is imported, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement is also involved. Counterfeiting and laundering of currencies is assigned to the US Secret Service alone.
  • Internet fraud and the promulgation of SPAM is assigned to FBI local office, ICCC, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC,) the Financial Crimes Division of the US Secret Service and even the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC.) Internet bomb threats and trafficking explosives, firearms or incendiary devices via the Web is assigned to the FBI local offices and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) local offices. Internet harassment is assigned solely to the FBI local offices.
  • Password trafficking and computer intrusion (such as hacking) is assigned to the FBI local office, the ICCC and the U.S. Secret Service.

Among these listed cyber crimes, password trafficking and hacking is the most prevalent of all. Additionally, the most common type of hacking is actually software piracy. To further understand why software piracy is so common, let us first define this issue.

What is software piracy?

Software piracy is any form of unauthorized copying and distribution of published software. Most retail programs are licensed for individual use: either for one computer or for one user only at any given time. When a person buys a piece of software, he or she does not become the “owner” of the said property, but rather becomes a licensed user only.

According to the End-User License ,or EULA, that is attached to all software programs, a licensed user is only allowed to make copies of the original software for backup purposes only. It is against federal and international law to create, distribute and sell copies after the fact.

However, like most people who do buy software packages, many licensed users do not read the EULA thoroughly (or read them at all). In fact, according to a recent Internet poll, a good 77% of users simply tick off the “I Agree” box when terms of agreements prop up during the installation process without even taking a look at the text contained. These aforementioned users, due to ignorance of or indifference to the provisions of the EULA, inadvertently end up becoming software pirates themselves; or worse, conspirators to the crime by allowing someone else to copy their software.

Apparently, software piracy is one of the most difficult online based copyright issues there is. It is virtually impossible to monitor the passing of hands, and even more difficult to block pirated copies from hitting the market. Software companies are doing their best to run after perpetrators, but only the most notorious ones are really caught. The cruel irony here is that online offenders become notorious when there are far too many victims to ignore. Another hindrance to this situation is the fact that catching or thwarting possible intellectual-rights thieves entails spending a lot of money; from pouring more resources to product research to prosecuting offenders in court.

No matter how many large fishes do get caught, it's the smaller fishes in the sea that can do the most damage. These are the ones who can remain undetected for years and can live off the most number of unsuspecting victims.

This is exactly the description of the case for a certain Jeremiah Mondello. Fortunately, he was recently apprehended by the FBI and is bound to see prison time soon.

Who Is Jeremiah Mondello?

Jeremiah Mondello, 23, of Eugene, Oregon, pleaded guilty to one count each of criminal copyright infringement, aggravated identity theft and mail fraud.Jeremiah Mondello is a 23-year-old software pirate and password hacker of online bank accounts. Naturally, he did not start out this way. He started simply by making several copies of software packages and selling them at rock-bottom prices on eBay using his own personal PayPal account.

Like all budding entrepreneurs, Mondello started figuring out which software products actually sell and began investing in a lot of hardware. He managed to create thousands of illegal software discs with a one-man, shed-based business using printers and disc burners. In the first 3 years of his operation, he had amassed more than $300,000 in illegal software sales.

Naturally, people began noticing the mass sales of discounted software, and actions were being taken. During that time, Mondello smartened up and set up using various stolen identities to avoid being traced. This is when Mondello started to hack into other people's bank accounts to receive his share of the loot.

He simply used his IM (instant messenger) service to deliver Trojan horse programs to various bank account holders; these programs tracked down his victims' keystrokes and he eventually deciphered the passwords each bank account holder had. Then he would pass off these bank accounts to his other unsuspecting victims for software payment.

Although Mondello has admitted that he hasn't stolen any money that wasn't his from the hacked accounts, the mere act of hacking into someone else's bank records and using his victims' identities are enough to convict him in a federal court.

When November of 2007 came, the feds finally showed up on Mondellos' doorstep and arrested him. A few months later, a federal judge found him guilty of copyright violation, identity theft, and mail fraud. This software pirate and hacker is sentenced to serve 4 years in the pen, which commenced on September 2008.