Illinois Public Media News
A Chicago man was charged Tuesday of computer hacking in collaboration with five other people aligned with the activist group Anonymous.
Federal prosecutors accuse Jeremy Hammond of stealing the credit card information of nearly 60,000 clients of Strategic Forecasting Inc. (Startfor), a global intelligence firm. Prosecutors say Hammond went by the name "anarchaos," among other online aliases.
A federal complaint alleges Hammond posted that information on a file sharing website resulting in at least $700,000 worth of unauthorized charges. The complaint also said Hammond helped obtain emails from Stratfor employees and put them on certain Internet websites.
The whistleblower website, Wikileaks started publishing emails from Stratfor in February. The website says it has nearly 5 million emails obtained from that company. It's not completely clear whether those emails are the ones prosecutors allege Hammond obtained by hacking into Stratfor's servers.
Hammond appeared in federal court in Chicago on Tuesday after being arrested the night before. He will be transferred to New York to stand trial.
Attorney Jim Fennerty represented Hammond in his initial Chicago court appearance. Fennerty also represented Hammond about two years ago when he was arrested for protesting at a Neo-Nazi gathering. He also confirmed Hammond had been detained for his opposition to Chicago's bid to host the Olympic Games, though Fennerty didn't represent Hammond in that case. Fennerty said he knows Hammond through his activism in Chicago.
"I like the guy. Maybe he does things I wouldn't do," Fennerty said.
Hammond is charged with three federal counts and faces a possible maximum sentence of 10 years for each of those counts.
"He does take them [the charges] very seriously. As you saw him today he looks kinda like - somebody said he looked kinda shell-shocked," Fennerty told reporters Tuesday.
Another four hackers were charged with similar counts in an indictment unsealed Tuesday in Manhattan federal court. A fifth hacker, Hector Xavier Monsegur, pleaded guilty last August. Monsegur is described in court papers as the ring-leader of the Anonymous sub-group LulzSec. Federal agents said Monsegur cooperated with the FBI in their investigation.
Wednesday's Internet strike in opposition to Internet Piracy legislation led eight lawmakers --- including Illinois Senator Mark Kirk --- to drop their support of the measures.
But Congressman Tim Johnson (R-IL) said he didn't need a day without Wikipedia to reach the conclusion that SOPA (HR 3261), and its Senate version PIPA (S 968) would be bad for the country.
The Urbana lawmaker says he understands the threat of Internet Piracy, but believes the two bills would do more harm than good.
"I think it's vaguely worded," Johnson said. "I think it clearly has the potential to violate First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. I think it is oppressive with respect to individuals, and I think it is ill-considered. And I think it's something that clearly should be defeated in the Congress."
Supporters of SOPA, such as the Motion Picture Association of America, argue that it targets only foreign "rogue websites" that are dedicated to copyright infringement. They say such sites as YouTube and Facebook would not be affected, and would not be required to monitor their users. But Johnson remains skeptical.
"They're misportraying it," he said. "It's clear from the bill that it would have potential for tremendous abuse. This is a good example of big Hollywood money coming in and trying to buy the process. And it's simply not going to work."
Johnson said he doesn't think SOPA and PIPA bills can be revised to address his concerns. Instead, he said current laws are sufficient to protect intellectual property rights.
The two bills would give officials the power to require that Internet providers and search engines block websites suspected of copyright infringement. Critics say the measure would pose a threat to other websites, just for linking to sites that had links to copyright infringement.
The first focus group meeting for potential subscribers to Champaign-Urbana's big broadband project had its share of questions, and there were answers for most of them.
The UC2B project for underserved areas won't be fully on line for about a year. But the first neighborhoods could see it as soon as April. Those include parts of Garden Hills - home for Robert Siedenberg:
"I knew there was fiber to the corner of my yard - I never dreamed it would come to the house," he said. "That's wonderful."
Siedenberg has had internet issues for much of his 10 years in North Garden Hills. After moving there, he discovered his home's all-copper phone lines were 50 to 60 years old. That meant the phone company would frequently switch service to an unused line, for basic dial up service.
"That would be good for a year or two, and by good, I mean it would be functional," said Sidedenberg. "And then we'd have outages again."
Those eligible for UC2B have learned they can expect to pay about 20-dollars for monthly service, and at a speed that's expected to surpass what Comcast and others and provide. It will also serve as an intranet service, allows users to produce content, and connect to anchor institutions like schools and hospitals. Consultant Diane Kruse says she's excited with the response.
"Often, when you're in this business, you're thinking about the plans, and you're deep into the spreadsheets and the numbers and the operating models and the policies," she said. "It's easy to lose focus on the customer."
Canvassers of bid-broadband neighborhoods have hit most areas once, getting replies from about 400 households so far.
About 18 people eligible for the service attended the first focus group meeting on UC2B in Champaign Monday night. Questions ranged from whether a senior on a fixed income could receive a lower rate, and whether current providers, like Comcast would end up offering more competitive rates as a result of UC2B.
Things are looking up for the Chanute Air Museum in Rantoul.
After it looked like a bleak financial picture might cause the museum to close, the last year has seen an improved bottom line.
Nancy Kobel is president of the museum's board of directors. Kobel tells The (Champaign) News-Gazette that the museum has enough money to cover payroll until the end of January.
She said that's a lot better than in August 2010 when the museum had only enough money to cover about two weeks of payroll.
Kobel said the board's efforts to promote the museum on the former Air Force base have been effective enough to allow them to stay open on Sundays, something they couldn't afford to do last winter.
Emergency personnel from Central Illinois say more communication on the local level is needed before the state even responds to a disaster.
Greater coordination in one region is a concern that came out of brainstorming sessions in a Homeland Security Town Hall meeting in Urbana Thursday. It's the second of eight the state is using to gauge strategies on how to handle disasters, as well as emerging threats.
Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director Jonathan Monken says the first such town hall, held in the Metro East area, focused more on the state's efforts to respond.
"I was very interested to hear the conversation about how they can improve at the local level, at the regional level to say how we can be better to prepared for the first four to six hours of an event before the state can even get there," Monken said.
Richard Jahne, director of the Illinois Fire Service Instiute at the University of Illinois, says one area he wants to see upgraded is bringing in all the right responders. Jahne says emergency personnel have a wide range of capabilities, but he's still concerned with the way the skills are applied.
"Does the way we use them match the way we train to prepare people to use them," said Jahne. "And who's missing? Who isn't part of the team that needs to be included in training and preparation and exercises."
Mahomet Police Chief Mike Metzler says even for a small agency like his, it's important to stay in involved with other agencies, and further develop mutual aid agreements that are already in place.
"Obviously, a place like Mahomet, resources are one of those things that we're always looking for to improve our standing, coming with money for training and equipment.," Metzler said.
The Urbana meeting was also intended to bring in more people from the private sector, but only a couple attended. John Dwyer is Deputy Director of Champaign County's Emergency Management Agency.
"What they can bring to the table during disasters - they're an untapped resource - working with our local businesses to see what they can help us with," he said.
The state will gather input from six more town hall meetings in different areas to develop a response strategy at a final summit in Springfield next September.
The Chicago Sun-Times and its 39 affiliated suburban newspapers are scheduled to start charging for online subscriptions.
Starting on Thursday, online readers will get 20 free page views across all Sun-Times Media websites every 30 days before hitting a paywall.
"The journalism we generate has value, and we think our readers and viewers will fully understand and support this decision on our part," said Sun-Times Media CEO Jeremy Halbreich.
Sun-Times Media will charge $6.99 for a four-week, unlimited subscription, about $78 annually. Current subscribers to any Sun-Times affiliated newspaper will be charged for $1.99 every four weeks for online access.
Halbreich said he's not concerned about losing readers after the paywall goes into effect.
The Northwest suburban paper The Daily Herald enacted a similar paywall earlier this year.
The Champaign Urbana Mass Transit District is trying to expand the use of technology for its riders.
That is why it has launched a competition for software developers to come up with applications that work on smart phones, desktops, and other devices. Karl Gnadt, who is the CUMTD's director market development, said more people are using this sort of technology to look up information about bus departures and arrivals.
"More and more are telling us that they don't use our schedule books, that they use the real time information," Gnadt said. "Typically, they'll get that on a mobile device. Though, often times they will use a computer as well."
The top three software developers will get a cash prize of $1000, $600, and $200, but Gnadt said all of the applications submitted will be in circulation on smart phones, desktops, and other devices.
"We think that the top three that the judges select are probably going to be the best of the bunch," he said. "So, I would think that those three would be the most popular and the most used."
Gnadt said there are currently about a dozen applications in circulation for CUMTD riders.
The deadline for the competition is Feb. 20.
An Illinois retailers group is endorsing bills in Congress that could settle the battle over sales taxes between online sellers and brick-and-mortar stores.
Illinois Retail Merchants Association President David Vite said his group welcomes both versions of the Marketplace Fairness Act, saying they would create uniform nationwide definitions and rules for state sales taxes --- making it easier for online retailers to collect those taxes from buyers in every state. For instance, he said states would have to agree on how they categorize items for tax purposes.
"What is clothing and what is an accessory?" Vite said. "So if clothing is taxed as a tie --- an accessory, or is it part of clothing? If you're selling food, are the definitions the same? That has to occur, and there has to be some very simple remittance requirements --- a single form and those kind of things. And if the state certifies that they do that, they would be eligible to participate."
Stephanie Sack owns the Viva La Femme shops in Chicago, which sell clothes to plus-size women. Speaking at a news conference in support of the bills, Sack said online sellers have an unfair advantage, because they generally don't collect state sales taxes like she does at her stores.
"The advantage that the Internet has - no matter what, where, when, or who - is a government sanctioned 10 percent markdown," Sack said.
Amazon.com has come out in favor of the Marketplace Fairness Act, while some other big online sellers have stayed away. Overstock.com said it supports another bill, called the Equity in Sales Tax Collection Act.
Vite said that bill is similar to the Marketplace Fairness Act, but he said the bill favored by Overstock provides a "small business exemption" for annual sales of up to $30-million --- a level he said is too high.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.) is co-sponsoring the Marketplace Fairness Act in the Senate, while U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) is co-sponsoring it in the U.S. House of Representatives.
A recording of dispatch radio calls shows that emergency workers were expressing concern about severe weather just minutes before winds ripped through the Indiana State Fair and caused a fatal stage collapse.
WTHR-TV in Indianapolis obtained recordings of Marion County dispatch communications from the night of Aug. 13, when thousands of fans were waiting to see a concert by country music group Sugarland.
In one excerpt, workers are warned about five minutes before the collapse that severe weather was moving in and are advised to seek shelter if necessary. Two minutes later, another dispatcher asks if concert fans have been released from the grandstands.
Fair officials have said they were preparing to order an evacuation when the stage rigging collapsed into the grandstands. Seven people died.
Chicago-based Exelon is a step closer to becoming one of the largest power companies in the country. Shareholders of Exelon and its rival, Constellation Energy, approved a merger Thursday. Exelon is the parent company of Commonwealth Edison.
Analyst Travis Miller with Morningstar predicts the merger will bring new jobs to Illinois and benefit consumers. "You know a larger company offers cost savings that can flow to ComEd and reduce the infrastructure portion of consumer bills," Miller said.
Miller predicts the merger will be finalized by early 2012, but it still needs approval from regulators.
Meantime, Illinois' attorney general is criticizing the deal. Lisa Madigan's office is concerned about what would happen to electricity prices if the merger goes through.
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