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Abene, Mark

Born: 1972 AD
Currently alive, at 49 years of age.
Nationality: N/A
Categories: Computer Hacker

1982 – Mark Abene’s first contact with computers was at 10 years of age. After getting a modem, he got on CompuServe and shortly after came in contact with various BBSes. In desire to explore, he connected to various computers. He became affiliated with the Legion of Doom (LOD), a loosely-knit group of BBS users interested in computers, in the late eighties. Abene and other people in the LOD exchanged information about accessing others’ computer systems.

1990 – Phiber Optik’s affiliations changed from the Legion of Doom to the rival group Masters of Deception as a result of a feud with LOD member Erik Bloodaxe. In conjunction with the nation-wide AT&T telephone system crash in 1990, Abene’s home was raided by the Secret Service on January 24. Secret Service agents permanently confiscated computer equipment and other belongings. According to some reports[citation needed], Phiber Optik and fellow MOD members Elias Ladopoulos ("Acid Phreak") and Paul Stira ("Scorpion"), were interrogated under the suspicion of causing the AT&T crash. Ultimately, no charges were filed along this line. AT&T also denied that hackers had anything to do with the crash, blaming a software error.

1991 – In February 1991, Abene was finally arrested and charged with Computer Tampering and Computer Trespass of the first degree, New York state offenses. He was also charged with a misdemeanor theft-of-service for a free-call scam to a 900 number. Mark Abene, who was a minor at the time, pleaded "not guilty" to the first two offenses and guilty to the misdemeanor and was sentenced to 35 hours of community service. Abene and four other members of the Masters of Deception were arrested again in December 1991.

1992 – Indicted by a Manhattan federal grand jury on July 8, 1992 on an 11-count charge. At first, Abene – still a minor by a month – pleaded "not guilty", but later changed his plea to guilty on two felony counts. The indictment relied heavily on evidence collected by court-approved wire tapping of telephone conversations between MOD members. The two counts to which Abene plead guilty were conspiracy and unauthorized access to computers of federal interest. A number of "overt acts" were described to support the counts. On count one (conspiracy), they claimed Abene responsible for receiving login information for a computer system ("overt acts" k and r, s), and giving another member information on "how to call forward telephone numbers on a certain type of phone switching computer" (p). The first overt act was attributed to all five of the defendants, and accused them of causing damage to a computer system operated by Educational Broadcasting Company, leaving a message on the screen: "Happy Thanksgiving you turkeys from all of us at MOD". Count two (Unauthorized Access to Computers) was supported by claiming that MOD had accessed federal interest computers, destroying information in the process. It also covered illegitimately accessing Southwestern Bell computer systems. MOD and "others whom they aided and abetted" allegedly performed actions causing losses of approximately $370,000. According to a July 9, 1992 newsletter from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the defendants could face a maximum term of 50 years in prison and fines of $2.5 million, if found guilty on all counts. Despite the fact that Abene was a minor at the time the crimes were allegedly committed, was only involved in a small fraction of the sub-charges, and often in a passive way, a plea arrangement resulted in by far the harshest sentence: 12 months imprisonment, three years probation and 600 hours of community service.

1994 – After serving the one-year sentence at a federal prison in Schuylkill, Pennsylvania, Mark Abene was released in November 1994. After his return, a party called "Phiberphest ’95" at a Manhattan nightclub was held in his honor. In TIME, Joshua Quittner called him "the first underground hero of the Information Age, the Robin Hood of cyberspace." For a time, he resumed his employment at ECHO, but later left to become system administrator of Radical Media, Inc., an up-and-coming emerging media company. After some consulting and speaking engagements on the subject of security, he was recruited by Steve Lutz at Ernst & Young, LLP as a staff consultant and with a small hand-picked group, jumpstarted E&Y’s tiger team practice. After some years as a very successful security consultant, he joined forces with former Legion of Doom member Bill From RNOC (aka Dave Buchwald) and a third colleague, Andrew Brown, to create security consulting company Crossbar Security. Crossbar thrived for a number of years in that it provided the same realism in tiger teams and security reviews that had initially elevated E&Y’s practice to such high demand. Crossbar provided info security services for a number of large corporations during its lifetime, during which the principles conducted business in the U.S., Japan, Brazil, and Sweden.

2000 – Abene briefly caused some stir in the security community, when he was turned down for employment by security firm @stake. The firm, which had merged with a company called L0pht Heavy Industries known for its many hacker employees a year earlier, asked him to join their New York office, apparently unaware of his past as a hacker.