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Your Take: Is Cleverness a Crime?

Here’s an interesting question – is taking advantage of an exploitable bug in something inherently illegal? [3] By luck and lots of playing, John Kane discovered a bug in the Game King video poker gaming system (this is true of all systems, not a single unit, in which certain settings were turned on) that would give him a significant advantage. I won’t go into the exact exploit, it gets pretty detailed, but Kane was charged with a violation of federal anti-hacking law even though he didn’t tamper with anything. He simply looked for a setting (or asked that it be turned on) and used his workaround. He also worked with others to visit several casinos over and over to use the exploit to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The exact charge wasn’t that they hacked the unit itself, since they didn’t, but that they exceeded “their otherwise legitimate access ‘to obtain or alter information in the computer that the accesser is not entitled so to obtain or alter.'” In other words, they discovered this workaround, used it, and made lots of money. They found a bug (the thing the accesser is not entitled to obtain or alter).

Personally, I don’t think what they did should be a crime. The manufacturers of the Game King system didn’t test their systems enough and now turning this into a legal case just brings more exposure to their oversight. This is big news only because of all the recent news about Aaron’s Law (named after Aaron Swartz [4]), and the fight over internet regulation laws.

Did they do something ethical? No, certainly not. But you could argue that gambling is hardly ethical either (and being unethical in an unethical place… well, that’s not two wrongs make a right either!). That said, gamblers are always trying to beat the house when they play any rigged game (all casino games favor the house), these gamblers simply found a way to work things in their favor. I applaud them!

What do you think? Did they commit a crime?

(Credit: midom [5])