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8/1/2007
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War-Driving Pornographic Spammer Escapes Jail Time

A California man who pleaded guilty to using unprotected wireless access accounts to send out porn site advertisements was sentenced to probation and home detention.

A California man who pleaded guilty to going war driving -- seeking out unprotected wireless access points -- to send out pornographic spam won't be going to jail.

Nicholas Tombros, of Marina Del Rey, Tuesday received a sentence of three years of probation and six months of home detention in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. He also was given a $10,000 fine, according to an interview with a court spokesman.

Tombros pleaded guilty in 2004 to sending spam e-mail messages advertising pornographic Web sites from his laptop computer while driving through Venice, Calif., according to the Justice Department and the FBI. Tombros admitted to using a wireless antennae attached to his laptop while driving around Venice to find open and unencrypted wireless access points in the area. He then used the wireless networks to send out thousands of spam messages.

Sending out spam while war driving is known as war-spamming.

Tombros pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized access to a computer to send multiple commercial electronic mail messages, the U.S. Attorney's office said in a statement. He faced a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

"It's something of a mystery as to why it has taken three years for Tombros to be sentenced. And compared to other convicted spammers, he seems to have gotten away relatively unscathed," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant for Sophos, in a written statement. "Sentencing needs to happen much faster if a strong message is going to be sent out to other spammers that their criminal activities are unacceptable."

Cluley said this is yet another warning for wireless users. "Home users and businesses need to ensure that they have properly secured their wireless Internet access or face the risk that hackers will take advantage," he added.

The U.S. Attorney's Office reported that the case was the first conviction in the nation under the Can-Spam Act of 2003.

At the end of May, the man the feds dubbed the "Spam King" was arrested on charges of identity theft, fraud, and money laundering. Robert Alan Soloway, 27, the owner of Newport Internet Marketing Corp. of Seattle, is looking at five counts of identity theft, mail fraud, wire fraud, fraud in connection with electronic mail, and money laundering. If convicted on all the charges, he could face up to 75 years in prison.

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