Internet service providers are increasingly looking for ways to charge customers more money for faster speeds and access to more data.
For years, hackers have looked for ways to get around such restrictions and get faster Internet service for free. This, of course, is illegal. And now, an Oregon man will spend three years in prison for helping thousands of people do it.
Ryan Harris, 29, was sentenced this week by a federal judge in Boston for selling tools that allow people to modify cable modems so they would appear to be paying subscribers and to remove filters that control Internet speed and content.
From 2003 to 2009, Harris earned between $400,000 to $1 million in revenue as the owner of a company called TCNISO, authorities said. Harris, who was known online as "DerEngel," also offered support through an online forum "to assist customers in their cable modem hacking activities," authorities said.
He even wrote a how-to book under his screenname called "Hacking the Cable Modem: What Cable Companies Don't Want You to Know."
From the beginning, Harris said that what he did was perfectly legal and that he should not be responsible for how his customers used his product.
"It’s like arresting every firearms dealer because handguns can be used to commit murder," Harris told Wired after his arrest in 2009.
In court on Wednesday, prosecutors said that Harris was compelled by "greed" and "a desire to punish the cable companies," while Harris' lawyer argued his client was angered that Internet service providers could throttle consumers' web access, according to the Boston Globe.
In addition to a three-year sentence, Harris was also ordered to pay a $50,000 fine and $152,370 in restitution.
Harris is hardly the first hacker to get caught changing the configurations on cable modems in order to get free and faster web access. In 2002, 19-year-old Myko Hein hacked his modem, a technique known as "uncapping," but his Internet provider, AT&T, quickly caught him and banned him from its network.
In 2009, Thomas Swingler was charged with selling hacked cable modems from a website called CableHack.NET. And in 2010, 26-year-old Matthew Delorey was charged with selling hacked Comcast modems that gave people free Internet access. Delorey also appeared in instructional videos on YouTube called "How to Get Free Internet Free."
Both Swingler and Delorey were caught after selling their hacked modems to undercover FBI agents.