Man arrested for '01 Airforce hacks

The Venezuelan hacker known as "RaFa" was arrested in Miami and charged with hacking U.S. DOD computers in 2001.

A popular Venezuelan hacker known as "RaFa" was arrested April 2 and charged with hacking into U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) servers almost four years ago.

RaFa, otherwise known as Rafael Nunez-Aponte, was arrested at Miami International Airport by agents of the DOD's Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) for attacks on DOD computer systems in 2001, as a member of the hacker group "World of Hell."

Nunez-Aponte is being held in Miami without bond and awaiting transfer to Denver to face one count each of unlawfully accessing a private government computer and causing intentional damage to a protected computer. If charged and convicted on both counts, he could face 11 years in prison, according to Jeff Dorschner, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver.

Nunez-Aponte is a media-friendly hacker who claimed to have left malicious hacking behind and turned over a new leaf in recent years, appearing as an expert source on hacking incidents and computer security vulnerabilities in numerous news articles, including those by the IDG News Service. Friends and family, including Seth Pack, a former hacker who teamed with Nunez-Aponte to start an online group to track and hunt down pedophiles, say that Nunez-Aponte had reformed his ways and was working for positive change.

Nunez-Aponte is believed to be the person behind a June 2001, Web defacement attack on computers belonging to the DOD's Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). In that attack, Nunez-Aponte allegedly accessed the computers and altered a DISA Web page to read "WoH is Back ... and kiss my (expletive) cause I just 0wn3d yours!" according to a copy of the indictment filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.

He is also alleged to have deleted logging information from the DISA computers and rendered some DISA systems inaccessible to Air Force personnel, according to the indictment. A criminal complaint alleging his involvement in the crimes was filed in 2003, leading to the arrest last week, said Dorschner.

Dorschner would not comment on how U.S. authorities knew Nunez-Aponte was coming to the U.S., but he had visited the country before, including a trip to New York City in recent months, said Pack.

Nunez-Aponte lived in Caracas, Venezuela, and worked for CANTV, a local Internet service provider in that country that is partially owned by Verizon Communications.

Contacted by instant message, Nunez-Aponte's brother, Juan Vincente Nunez, said that his brother is an ethical professional in his field and his family is looking for moral and financial support to fight the charges against his brother.

Before his arrest, Nunez-Aponte hoped to make up for his past misdeeds through good works, such as the Computer Pedophilia Investigation Unit, or CPIU, which is creating a database of legal information about child predators and child pornography that could be used by law enforcement, Pack said.

No trial date has been set yet for Nunez-Aponte's case, but further proceedings will take place once he is transferred to Colorado, Dorschner said.

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Paul Roberts

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