Months after launching a federal investigation, authorities yesterday arrested a Connecticut man for selling the source code for Microsoft's Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 2000 operating systems over the Internet.
William P. Genovese, 27, of Meriden, Conn., is charged with unlawfully distributing a trade secret, which carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence upon conviction.
A Microsoft lawyer told The New York Times the arrest was significant, given the value of the proprietary code. "It is our secret recipe, our secret formula like the Coke formula," said associate general counsel Tom Rubin.
In recent months, the software giant has extended its code to business partners and governments but tried to tightly guard it from hackers who could use the massive amount of coding to find vulnerabilities to exploit. When the code theft was first reported in February, some speculated the thief took advantage of Microsoft's "shared source" program instead of it being an inside job. Other news organizations suggested the culprit may have been a software developer in the hacker underground.
After the theft was discovered, authorities launched an investigation and discovered Genovese had posted a message on his Web site, illmob.org, offering to sell the source code previously stolen by others. An undercover FBI agent and an investigator hired by Microsoft both contacted Genovese, who used an alias, and sent $20 to a PayPal account to download a copy of a file containing the source code, according to various news reports.
A British newspaper reports that Genovese had a previous conviction in March 2003 for illegally accessing computers but provided no other details besides his two-year probation for the crime. In addition to prison time, Genovese faces up to $250,000 in fines if he is convicted of distributing the stolen Windows OS code.