Star Wars Lady Gaga, Ke$ha and the German Hacker Heist
Part 2: 'I'm Addicted to Music'
The teen was already 15 or 16 by the time his parents gave him his first PC. He had begged for it for a long time, and all he did at first was play games, like Counterstrike and FIFA World Cup. He would play all afternoon and into the evening, spending more and more time doing it. But that isn't unusual for an adolescent. He also downloaded music from file-sharing sites, which is illegal but not uncommon.
One day, when he was playing Counterstrike with his cousin, using a network, the cousin brought in a friend. He was only 13, but he had a few tricks up his sleeve, like how to hack into other computers without the users even noticing. "It took all of 10 minutes, and then I knew how to do it, too," he recalls.
At first they tested the waters, sending each other Trojans -- complete virus programs -- that they would download from the Internet and attach to e-mails. Christian realized that it was relatively easy. The way a Trojan works is that the clueless recipient merely has to click on the infected attachment, and already the hacker can search through his entire computer.
Then Christian began hacking into the computers of record-company executives and artists. He would find out whether the celebrities or their managers have a page on a social network like Myspace, and then he would write to them, attaching what he claimed was a picture or a song -- but was in fact a Trojan. Later on, he sent phishing e-mails designed to look like they were from companies like Yahoo or Apple. In the e-mails, users are told that they are being targeted in a hacker attack, and to enter their passwords to solve the problem. Of course, the passwords went directly to Christian.
'I Made a Huge Mistake'
He would jump from one computer to the next, hacking into the computer of Mark Pitts, a music executive at Sony. Then he would scan the e-mail addresses on Pitts' computer and write to other managers and artists, pretending to be Mark Pitts -- with his Trojans attached, of course. In this way, he could move from one target to the next, constantly searching for new, unreleased songs, preferably black music like R&B.
Christian wasn't alone, either. On one Internet forum, Black n Beatz (BnVZ), around 20 boys and young men post their hacked songs. Those who have nothing to offer are not given access. Christian, however, decided he had enough to offer to be given access. The police believe that "Cee," as Christian calls himself online, was probably the head of the BnVZ hacker crew, one of perhaps four or five such groups in Germany.
A couple of guys asked him if they could be part of the site, and he also brought in a few people on his own, Christian says today. "Of course, I know that I made a huge mistake and that I have to be punished," he says today. He claims that he was able to hack into 200 to 300 computers, but the police believe that the number is probably between 500 and 1,000. He also downloaded a few documents from one of these computers, one that belongs to Universal. The documents contain the "proposed most important projects for the music industry in 2010," as the investigators would later note. For the victims, the record companies, it was a disaster.
Christian also had to have been motivated by his love of the music, or else he could just as easily have hacked into the computers of book publishers. But he isn't interested in books. The search for music, on the other hand, is also an addiction of sorts, an addiction to collecting things. Of course he was afraid of being caught, he says, but the excitement of it all helped him ignore the fear. "I'm addicted to music," he says, "I know that."
Why else would someone store 80,000 songs on his hard drive, a few thousand of them in a directory called "Unreleased?" Was it to listen to them all or just to have them? It wasn't until later that he tried making money with the songs. "I didn't have anything else," says Christian. He sold a few songs on his own, for a quick 50. Then he met another hacker on the rmx4u.com website, the marketplace for the entire music hacker scene. The hacker was Deniz A., aka DJ Stolen, a student at a vocational school who bragged about how much money could be made selling hacked songs.
A Dangerous Enemy
There is a photo online of Deniz and his mother. The caption reads: "Me and my mommy, mum I luv youuuuu." Deniz, a boy with brown, fawnlike eyes, still lives with his parents in an upscale neighborhood in Duisburg. But for the American music industry, Deniz isn't a momma's boy, he's the enemy. In fact, he is one of its most dangerous enemies worldwide.
They have been hunting him since January 2010. At the time, DJ Stolen was chatting with someone, not knowing that the person was actually an undercover FBI agent. The boy gave the agent an Internet address, and the BKA's Department SO 43 (SO stands for Serious and Organized Crime) gave the Americans the real name corresponding to the address. It was registered to Deniz's mother.
In April 2010, three months before the police raided the house in Duisburg, attorneys with the Rasch law firm filed a criminal complaint, charging that Deniz A., aka DJ Stolen, was constantly placing hacked songs on the Internet. The complaint also contains a list of 27 songs, including "No Way" by Lady Gaga, "Masquerade" by the Backstreet Boys, "Pulse" by Leona Lewis, "Rockbank" by Usher, as well as songs by R. Kelly, Snoop Dogg and Enrique Iglesias. All of these songs were new, and they were all on the Internet before the record companies had released them. Deniz had also hacked into Sony executive Pitts' computer. As indirect evidence, the lawyers cited a sentence they had found on rmx4u.com, in which Deniz had apparently written that there was one song he "didn't find in pit (sic) mail," but someplace else.
In addition to raiding the mailbox, DJ Stolen used Pitts' e-mail address to deceive other Sony employees. "The perpetrator stealing our music is causing real problems," a Sony executive complains after having lost three songs to the hacker.
- Part 1: Lady Gaga, Ke$ha and the German Hacker Heist
- Part 2: 'I'm Addicted to Music'
- Part 3: Personal Greetings from Stars Were as Important as Money