America Online says its safeguards worked when an 18-year-old high school dropout hacked into the company's internal computers from his bedroom.
But Jay Satiro of New Rochelle was able to alter some AOL programs with his own applications and cause at least $50,000 (£30,500) in damage before he was caught, court papers say.
Police forced their way into Satiro's home on Wednesday and took him and his new computer into custody after AOL notified the Westchester County district attorney's office of the intrusion. AOL spokesman Rich D'Amato said the intrusion "really should mean absolutely nothing for America Online members". He would not say how long it went undetected or what Satiro was trying to accomplish.
According to the complaint filed Wednesday, Satiro "gained access to the internal computer system of AOL and while connected with these internal computers did alter computer data and programs by placing computer programs on various computers."
Satiro was arraigned in City Court on a charge of first-degree computer tampering, which carries a maximum sentence of five to 15 years in prison. His mother posted $5,000 bail. The AOL spokesman said, "Any attempt at this stuff is serious," but expressed satisfaction with the detection and the cooperation of the district attorney's office, which has a new high-tech crimes unit that works with Internet providers.
Satiro was not home when a reporter called, but his 15-year-old brother Bobby said, "I consider him a genius with computers." He said his mother bought Jay a new, 333-megahertz model just before last Christmas. His brother dropped out of New Rochelle High School after he was arrested in 1997 on another computer-related charge -- using the Internet to buy computer equipment and paying with bogus, possibly home made money orders.
"Jay's a genius, but his common sense is a little low," Bobby said.