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Wired Looks at Ladar Levison’s Secure Email Project

Photo by Elizabeth Lavin

In case you missed it (I did), on Friday Wired published a story about our favorite alliterative email service provider, Ladar Levison. Ladar is currently holed up in a house in North Texas, cranking away on his next project, a super-secure email system called Dark Mail. The Wired story goes into how this new email system will work, but more interesting is Ladar’s collaborator Stephen Watt:

Watt, 31, has long been known in the hacking community under the names “Jim Jones” and the “Unix Terrorist.” The striking, 7-foot-tall software engineer graduated from high school in Florida at 16 with a 4.37 grade point average and from college at 19. By 21, he was working as a coder for Morgan Stanley in New York earning $90,000 a year. It was during this time that he wrote the sniffing program for long-time friend Albert Gonzales, who then used it to siphon thousands of credit and debit card numbers from TJX and other retailers.

In August 2008, Watt was developing real-time trading programs for Imagine Software when authorities raided his work place. He wasn’t accused of participating directly in the retail hacks or even of profiting from them, but prosecutors say he knew the program was destined for criminal use and was witness to its ill-gotten gains. He once threw a $75,000 birthday party with Gonzalez and discussed launching a New York nightclub with financial backing from his friend.

Probably most important to his fate, however — he refused to cooperate with the feds to make their case against Gonzalez. As a result, Watt got a two-year prison sentence and was ordered to pay more than $100 million in restitution.