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Today’s New York Times has a fascinating story on a somewhat unbalanced computer hacker who tried to shake down the firm MicroPatent for $17 million.

What’s so troubling about the story is that credible extortion threats such as this one are becoming more and more common on the Internet today. There are many companies that have lost very valuable information, and many so-called thugs are threatening to reveal that information if they are not paid.

The bad guy in this case apparently made himself hard to track by breaking into residential wireless networks, lifting accounts and passwords, and using those to communicate his threats. We will be living with the impact of these unsecured (and, in some cases, unsecurable) networks for a long time to come.

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