Most of us, though, have not lived next door to our own personal cyber-terrorist. Minnesota attorney Matthew Kostolnik has.
His neighbor “launched a calculated campaign to terrorize his neighbors, doing whatever he could to destroy the careers and professional reputations of Matt and Bethany Kostolnik, to damage the Kostolniks’ marriage, and to generally wreak havoc on their lives.”
On Tuesday, the man who published child pornography and sent a death threat to Joe Biden, all under Kostolnik’s name, was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Keep reading to learn more about the worst neighbor since the door-kicking judge….
Barry Ardolf, 46, repeatedly hacked into his next-door neighbors’ Wi-Fi network in 2009, and used it to try and frame them for child pornography, sexual harassment, various kinds of professional misconduct and to send threatening e-mail to politicians, including Vice President Joe Biden.
Problems started the day the Kostolniks moved into their new house in Blaine, a Minneapolis suburb. (Matt is a shareholder at Moss & Barnett.) Ardolf allegedly kissed Matthew’s four-year-old son on the lips after the boy wandered into Ardolf’s yard. The understandably concerned parents reported their neighbor to the police, setting in motion a nightmare ordeal that was weirdly similar to that old Will Smith movie, Enemy of the State.
Ardolf downloaded Wi-Fi hacking software and spent two weeks cracking the Kostolnik’s WEP encryption. Then he used their own Wi-Fi network to create a fake MySpace page for the husband, where he posted a picture of a pubescent girl having sex with two young boys. Under the “about me” section, he wrote:
“I bet my coworker that since I’m a lawyer and a darn great one that I could get away with putting up porn on my site here. I bet that all I have to do is say that there is plausible deniability since anybody could have put this on my site. Like someone hacked my page and added porn without my knowledge. This is reasonable doubt. I’m a darn good lawyer and I can get away with doing anything!”
He then e-mailed the same child porn to one of the husband’s co-workers, and sent flirtatious e-mail to women in Mr. Kostolnik’s office. “You are such a fox,” read one of the e-mails. He sent the message’s through the husband’s genuine e-mail account.
I literally cannot imagine how scary and humiliating this would be. One can only hope that Kostolnik’s co-workers believed him and didn’t think he was crazy, à la Tyler Durden or something. Because sadly, this type of allegation is not unheard of, even for attorneys.
But that’s not all. A few months later this poor guy got a surprise office visit from the Secret Service:
[I]n May 2009, the Secret Service showed up at Kostolnik’s office to ask about several threatening e-mails sent from his Yahoo account, and traced to his IP address, that were addressed to Biden and other politicians. The subject line of one e-mail read: “This is a terrorist threat! Take this seriously.”
“I swear to God I’m going to kill you!,” part of the message to Biden said.
Thankfully, Kostolnik’s firm hired a forensics investigator to look into the situation, and the investigator found data pointing to Ardolf.
One thing led to another, the FBI got a search warrant, and they found a LOT of evidence in Ardolf’s house: hacking manuals, “handwritten notes laying out [his] revenge plans,” mail stolen from the Kostolniks’ mailbox, the pornographic image posted on MySpace and sent to the husband’s co-worker, AND evidence of similar harassment against another neighbor.
Not sure what the lesson is here regarding technology, privacy or practicing law. It’s just nice to see, in the end, the good guys on top and the bad dude behind bars, thanks to the operation of the justice system.
Still, I’m going to go home tonight and change all my passwords.
Christopher Danzig is a writer in Oakland, California. He previously covered legal technology for InsideCounsel magazine. Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisdanzig or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read more of his work at chrisdanzig.com.