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MySpace Predator Caught By Code 374

An anonymous reader writes, "Wired News editor and former hacker Kevin Poulsen wrote a 1,000-line Perl script that checked MySpace for registered sex offenders. Sifting through the results, he manually confirmed over 700 offenders, including a serial child molester in New York actively trying to hook up with underage boys on the site, and who has now been arrested as a result. MySpace told Congress last June that it didn't have this capability." Wired News says they will publish Poulsen's code under an open-source license later this week.
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MySpace Predator Caught By Code

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  • Re:Easy? (Score:3, Informative)

    by sdBlue (844590) on Monday October 16, 2006 @05:11PM (#16459999)
    Sure it's easy. Suck down the HTML to the search page. Build a routine that does the HTML POST, and iterate through each name in the Offender's list, using it for the value of the "search by real name" field. Parse for the result count string in the returned HTML. When result count >0, investigate further. Now, how easy is it for MySpace? I'd say about an order of magnitude easier - they have direct access to the database. Roughly something like: SELECT * FROM userbase WHERE EXISTS (SELECT offenders.realname FROM offenders WHERE offenders.realname like '%'+userbase.realname+'%') Sure, there's a little added complexity for slight spelling variations, but SoundEx and the like can be used for such purposes.
  • Re:Is this legal? (Score:5, Informative)

    by omeomi (675045) on Monday October 16, 2006 @05:13PM (#16460019) Homepage
    Isn't this a breach of privacy and wouldn't this person or MySpace be vulnerable to lawsuits?

    Anything you put on a public web site is--by definition--not private. It would be a breach of privacy if MySpace used private, personal information, but if the script just culled information from public pages, there's no breach of privacy.
  • Re:Is this legal? (Score:5, Informative)

    by KiltedKnight (171132) * on Monday October 16, 2006 @05:33PM (#16460305) Homepage Journal
    If you are only sifting through public information, then there is nothing illegal about this.

    If you are sifting through private information, then one of the following is true:

    • If you are a Law Enforcement Official, anything you discover cannot be used to obtain a warrant, nor can this evidence be used against someone without it being lawfully reacquired once a warrant has been issued
    • If you are a private citizen, unless you violated some sort of Terms of Use or other agreement to obtain the information, it is not illegal for you to use it
    Yes. It is perfectly legal for a private citizen, acting on his or her own volition, to perform searches. The illegality occurs when laws are broken to obtain the information (breach of contract, breaking and entering, etc).
  • by pilkul (667659) on Monday October 16, 2006 @05:34PM (#16460315)
    Doing a bunch of HTTP fetches, parsing and extracting the data -- from sources that were probably never designed to be automatically parsed, and hence have lots of weird exceptions and corner cases -- and then performing string compares, easily adds up to 1000 lines, especially with comments and error messages. The task is trivial in theory but somewhat hairy in practice.

    And speaking from unpleasant experience, doing something like this in a language without features dedicated to text parsing (like C++ without the Boost Perl regexp library) would take at least three times the lines.
  • by meeotch (524339) on Monday October 16, 2006 @06:14PM (#16460905) Homepage

    For those who haven't already, check out Beautiful Soup [], which is a great python module for web-scraping - particularly when used together with ClientCookie []... the results are shockingly elegant in many cases.

    I've personally written functionally equivalent scripts of 100-200 lines to search MySpace for underag... oops, I've said too much.

  • by HUADPE (903765) on Monday October 16, 2006 @06:21PM (#16460997) Homepage
    I don't think he was the internet archive. []
  • Re:Don't believe it (Score:3, Informative)

    by robi2106 (464558) on Monday October 16, 2006 @06:53PM (#16461357) Journal
    Nothing says it wasa "good" perl script. I am guilty of writing a monstrous and horrible to read perl script when I was first learning (as part of paid research for my employere). That sucker was about 1040 lines.

    Like I said, it was horrible to read but worked and did the job. Heh, now taht I have had some sort of education regarding program / system design I wouldn't even dream of writing that app the same way again.

  • by Maestro4k (707634) on Monday October 16, 2006 @07:42PM (#16461859) Journal
    I wonder how many false positives he got? I suspect the answer will illustrate why a white hat wouldn't be doing this sort of thing.

    He took those into consideration, from TFA:

    The code swept in a vast number of false or unverifiable matches. Working part time for several months, I sifted the data and manually compared photographs, ages and other data, until enhanced privacy features MySpace launched in June began frustrating the analysis.

    Excluding a handful of obvious fakes, I confirmed 744 sex offenders with MySpace profiles, after an examination of about a third of the data. Of those, 497 are registered for sex crimes against children. In this group, six of them are listed as repeat offenders, though Lubrano's previous convictions were not in the registry, so this number may be low. At least 243 of the 497 have convictions in 2000 or later.

    I'm afraid that any vigilantes who decide to use his software after it's released won't be so thorough.

  • by Artifakt (700173) on Monday October 16, 2006 @08:15PM (#16462169)
    Using a fictitious name or other information is essentially creating an alias. For a criminal already under probation, this would likely violate it, and might even result in an additional criminal charge. A nym isn't normally a criminal act, but for these guys, it is, under at least some state's laws, or even where this isn't the case, it will almost inevitably be an aggrevating circumstance if they do anything at all else. Plus a probation officer can impose some pretty extreme restrictions against normally non-criminal acts, such as visiting a close family member who happens to also have a record. For many of these predators, their probation began with a standardized list that already warned against using any alias whatsoever, even just normal ones such as signing a check with a nickname. So if the criminal gets caught, they are probably damned if they do, damned if they don't.
  • by Pasquina (980638) on Monday October 16, 2006 @10:40PM (#16463357)
    Yes, it's fake. bbspot creates satires like theOnion. Their catch phrase is taken from This Is Spinal Tap: their top ten lists "go to eleven".
  • Re:Good Job Kevin (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 16, 2006 @11:12PM (#16463593)
    I am also a victim of childhood sexual abuse and I am an incest survivor. For me it was from age 10.

    Here are some of the problems and pains it has caused me.

    The biggest thing it does to you is break down your "boundaries".
    What that means is:

    I wind up confusing love and sex.
    I am more aware of what other people want than what I want.
    I do things I don't want to do to please others, even without them asking.
    Then I get angry at them and resenting it.

    Hypervigilence - always knowing where other people are around you, even behind you.
    Also sitting in a restaurant with your back against the wall nearly all the time is
    I am reluctant to tell my friends with kids because I worry they will think I will molest their kids. (This is based on the idea that most molesters were molested themselves)
    By the way, I ended up not having kids. I think I was afraid I would be like my Dad.

    One of my abusers put a lot of energy into making sure I felt "OK" and that I was not upset.
    Of course, his main concern was that I would get upset and tell somebody.
    I think it is this thing you end up hearing over and over from your abuser.
    "Everything is ok"

    So when you grow up, you think: Well it kind of sucked but it didn't really affect me too much.

    Speaking for myself, it affected me in lots of ways.
    A lot of times I have felt "I want my life back".

    You didn't deserve to be abused.

    Kids shouldn't have to trade their bodies for love.
  • by ArsenneLupin (766289) on Tuesday October 17, 2006 @01:06AM (#16464363)
    Please, someone tell me that's an Onion story.

    It's an obvious jab at the RIAA:

    Online band predators are such a big concern that the RIAA has created a website warning bands about the problem. The site gives a few warning signals that bands should watch out for:
    • If you think the record executive is a "nice person" then you aren't dealing with a real executive. It's common knowledge that all record executives are assholes.
    • If the contract you're being offered seems "fair" then you're dealing with an online band predator.

The trouble with a lot of self-made men is that they worship their creator.