Current Event: Convicted Botnet Leader Retains Job

By eapter at 8:15 pm on March 7, 2009Comments Off on Current Event: Convicted Botnet Leader Retains Job

In three sequential articles, ComputerWorld traces the sentencing of convicted botnet leader John Schiefer as well as his continued employment at the start-up Mahalo.  Schiefer is an ex-security consultant and is the first botnet leader to be charged under the wiretap statutes.  He entered his guilty plea almost a year ago, but sentencing has been delayed until now.  He will be paying $2,500 in fines, paying nearly $20,000 in restitution, and spending 4 years in prison  Perhaps what is more interesting is that Mahalo’s CEO Jason Calacanis has both allowed Scheifer to continue working during this time and has expressed a desire to offer him a job upon his release from prison.  Calacanis has defended this decision on the basis that he trusts Schiefer and considers him a changed man from the person who committed the earlier crimes.

Clearly, Schiefer’s sentencing is a consequence of pleading guilty to the charges against him.  When he originally obtained his job at Mahalo, his employers were not aware of his criminal activities.  They learned of these crimes months after his hiring.  However, Calacanis decided not to fire him at that time and stands by that decision: “I consider myself a fairly decent judge of character, and after spending months with John, I’m convinced he was an angry stupid kid when he launched his botnet attack.”  Regardless of the accuracy of Calacanis’s  assessment, Schiefer is able to keep his job because he gained the trust of his coworkers and employer.  In their eyes, he became a person (John Schiefer) instead of a nebulous concept (botnet leader).  This speaks to the importance of trust within our society.

Though Calacanis claims that Mahalo’s hiring process is quite rigorous, it seems that a simple background check would have been sufficient to bring Schiefer’s past to light (assuming he had already been identified by authorities at the time of hiring).  If this wasn’t done, then Mahalo failed at ensuring the integrity of their hires.  If this was done and there was no information, than Mahalo can hardly be held accountable for the original oversight.  Another interesting aspect of this case is that Calacanis claims this has affected his perspective on hiring felons.  Where previously he said most felons would not have made it to the interview process, his experience with Schiefer has given him some faith in the rehabilitation process and prompted him to rethink his position.

This event brings out important issues about security, trust, and rehabilitation.  No one doubts that Schiefer committed the crimes to which he pled guilty.  What is an issue is that he is continuing to work in the industry that made his original crimes possible.  Even if he continues to be closely supervised, this will give Schiefer ample opportunity to perform more attacks in the future.  However, much of the justification of our country’s penal system is the idea that, after serving one’s time, a person can become rehabilitated.  This allows a person to re-integrate with society and make something of himself.  Certainly Schiefer is being given that opportunity, but there is significant security risk in the process.

Because of the two conflicting ideas of security and rehabilitation, I expect that different people will have different opinions on this matter.  Furthermore, I suspect that despite disagreeing on the proper course of action, many people would agree that they are “good” judges of character.  I think that if they met Schiefer they, like Calacanis would have a firm opinion of the proper course of action, whichever course of action they happen to support.

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