Russian Programmer Arrested at Hacker Conference

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A Russian computer programmer arrested by FBI agents after speaking at a hacker's convention is accused of distributing a program that allows users to copy electronic books.

The FBI in San Francisco said Wednesday that the case involving copyrighted and encrypted software might be the first under the federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. The anti-piracy legislation is aimed at protecting the rights of software producers.

Dmitry Sklyarov, 26, was arrested Monday at the Alexis Park hotel in Las Vegas, the morning after he was a panelist at Def Con, a three-day conference that drew 5,200 computer hackers and professionals in Las Vegas.

Sklyarov works for ElcomSoft Co., of Moscow. His conference topic, according to a self-introduction on the Def Con Web site: "encryption in Microsoft Office documents is very weak and password protection may be removed without any problems in most cases."

Sklyarov was charged with writing a program, "Advanced eBook Processor," that unlocked the "eBook Reader" produced by Adobe Systems, Inc.

At an initial appearance Monday in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas, Sklyarov agreed to be moved to California, Assistant U.S. Attorney Matt Parrella said.

Sklyarov is charged with a single count of trafficking in a product designed to circumvent copyright protection measures. If convicted, Sklyarov faces up to five years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

The complaint was issued July 10 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose, based on a June 26 complaint by Adobe Systems in Santa Clara, Calif.

Company technical investigators told the FBI that they bought the unlocking program for $99.

"Dmitry was one of three programmers who worked on this," ElcomSoft's president, Alexander Katalov, told the Los Angeles Times. "The corporation holds the copyright. I am very surprised that he was arrested."

Katalov said the software was developed to let users copy electronic books onto multiple computers.

On its Web site, ElcomSoft says it is a privately owned software development company founded in 1990 and headquartered in Moscow.

It says it specializes in producing Windows productivity and utility applications including password recovery software.

An official in the San Francisco FBI office said the arrest was made Monday because agents were still gathering evidence and the bureau wanted to avoid disrupting the Def Con conference.

The conference, in its ninth year, has a reputation as a wild anti-establishment affair with partying and hacking games. It is an adjunct event to the Black Hat Briefings, a conference for computer professionals that drew some 2,300 attendees at the same Las Vegas hotel earlier in the week.

A Def Con spokesman declined to comment on the arrest or its possible effect on the conference.