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Arrest @ HOPE
Written by Editor   
Monday, 24 July 2006 14:28

Last weekend, the HOPE Number Six was held in the Big Apple. The HOPE convention--the east coast version of the Vegas hackers convention, defcon--was founded by Eric Gorden Corley, who goes by the nym, Emanuel Goldstein, after Orwell's 1984 cult classic. Corley, also founder of 2600 and Phrack, was one of 500 individuals named in a 1999 Universal v. Reimerdes lawsuit for placing links to DeCSS DVD ripping code on his 2600 web site. The following year, DeCSS code began adorning T-shirts sold at hacker conventions across the U.S.

In addition to guest speakers, "hacker games" are a big draw for convention attendees. Of these, "spot the fed" tends to be a rather fun little game that runs throughout the conference. If an attendee correctly spots a federal agent, they become the proud owner of an "I Spotted the Fed" T-shirt, while the federal agent becomes a proud owner of an "I Am the Fed" T-shirt--if any of your federal friends start looking a bit rough around the edges by mid-to-late July, you can probably guess they're on their way to a hacker convention.

The aforementioned is but one example of the types of games played at hacker conventions--where participants can legally display their technical, and sometimes physical, prowess--during war games, social engineering contests, and a variety of other exercises that are designed to promote a sense of camaraderie and just plain fun within the hacker community. Thus, on Saturday, June 22, 2006, when 47 year-old Steven Rombom, Pallorium Inc. CEO and HOPE guest speaker, was arrested by federal agents just as he was about to give his presentation, some attendees were quite certain it was nothing more than a publicity stunt.

When the news broke on Brian Kreb's Washington Post Security Fix blog that evening and slash-dot the following morning, speculation ran rampant--from defamatory allegations of paedophilia, to humorously conspiratorial comments, such as the following, posted by slash-dot member, Zaphod2016:

"First they came for the Linux users, but I didnt care because I didnt use Linux.
Then they came for the OSX users, but I didnt care because I didnt use OSX.
Then they came for the Windows users, but by then it was too late; they were far too stupid to help me..

-- Zaphod2016, July 23, 2006 @ 2:19 AM

Kreb has since posted an update. And from his post, which includes a link to a copy of the complaint, it appears Mr. Rombom has been charged with one count of "obstruction of justice and with witness tampering." The complainant alleges that Romboms company was hired by former assistant district attorney, Albert Santoro (United States v. Santoro, 03 Cr. 484)--who is being tried for money laundering charges--and that:

"1. In or about April 2006, in the Southern District of New York and elsewhere, STEVEN ROMBOM, a/k/a "Steven Rambam," the defendant, unlawfully, wilfully, knowingly and corruptly did influence, obstruct and impede, and did endeavor to influence, obstruct and impede the due administration of justice, to wit, ROMBOM impersonated an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in order to intimidate a Government confidential informant in a pending criminal matter for which a trial is scheduled."

-- U.S. v Steven Rombom
Violation of 18 U.S.C. SS 1503 & 2

This is not Romboms first brush with the law. From news reports, he joined the JDL--a militant Zionist group founded by Meir Kahane--when he was 13. Four years later, he was arrested on explosive charges and conspiracy to commit terrorist acts against Russian diplomats.

In a June 8th article, associate director, Dov Fisch, characterized the 17 year-old as a "leading activist." (Daily Review, 1976) Rombom plead guilty to the weapons charge in November and was sentenced to up to six years in prison in December by a federal judge who stated, "society cannot justify terrorist activities whatever the cause." (The Times Herald, 1976)

Rombom seems to disappear from the media landscape for 13 years, making a rather unflattering reappearance in a 1989 Village Voice article penned by Robert I. Friedman. This time as a target of JDO founder, Mordechai Levy. JDO was a rival offshoot of JDL. In 1996, Rombom gained notoriety as a "Nazi Hunter" during an interview for a Canadian special on Nazi war criminals in Canada.

By 1997, Rombom had filed a defamation lawsuit against Levy and the JDO. His most recent and verifiable activity, excluding last weekends arrest, involves a lawsuit filed in 2003 against Stephen Joe Jared, for including Palloriums e-mail server on their spam blacklist. There was some talk of the lawsuit on NANAE--mostly in support of Jared--and from the Oretek lawsuit page, it appears Jared won.

Which brings us to today. Although Rombom claims he did not impersonate a "police officer or federal agent," his post-hearing statement seems to confirm that he did, in fact, approach the CI's family. Whether Mr. Rombom's actions are considered illegal or not, I wholeheartedly agree with a number of those who have commented on the nature of Rombom's arrest. After all, arresting the man just as he was about to make his presentation at hacker conference, rather than in his hotel room that morning or the evening before, certainly smells like some sort of publicity stunt on the part of the federal agents.

Whatever the case, if convicted, Rombom could face up to 20 years in prison. And though it seems rather unlikely that he would risk his company and career on such a stupid stunt, his colorful past--which appears to be littered with heavy-handed encounters--brings the FBI's charges within the realm of possibilities. Even so, the FBI's not-so-discreet approach raises its own set of questions--that, quite frankly, appear to have not a thing to do with their so-called case against the man.


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