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Can't score concert tickets? Maybe Wiseguy got them.

Federal prosecutors charge that a sophisticated ring of hackers working for Wiseguy Tickets cracked security measures at major ticket vendors to illegally gain control of 1.5 million coveted tickets to concerts, sporting events and theatrical performances, then resold them at very high prices. Prosecutors contend the Wiseguys, operating mainly out of Los Angeles and San Francisco, earned $25 million between 2002 and 2009 by reselling the premium seats at inflated prices to other brokers who resold them with higher markups to fans. To do this, they had to come up with various sneaky electronic tricks to get around established authentication and security systems, prosecutors said. As described in court, these were some of the corporate defenses and the Wiseguys' alleged counterpunches through the years:

Sequence of Events

August 2003

E-mails captured by federal investigators show Wiseguy officials asking a programmer living in Bulgaria to come up with "non-human" means to buy tickets. The Bulgarian programmer helped the Wiseguys bypass the main gatekeeper: CAPTCHA, most familiar as those squiggles that appear right before you get to the "buy now" button. The Bulgarian created a program that automatically filled in the answers, racing to the buy phase.

August 2005

Ticketmaster sends cease and desist letters.

Nov. 11, 2005

Tickets to the BCS championship football game at the Rose Bowl go on sale and 1,000 are released. Wiseguy get 882, e-mail shows.

Feb. 25, 2007

Bulgarian warns price haggling and hikes could cause a backlash. "The general public may snap and kill your business overnight." Perhaps polling and market research could help set price points, he suggests.

Aug. 18-Dec. 1, 2007

[Photo]

Wiseguy buy nearly 12,000 tickets to Hannah Montana tour shows nationwide. Face value: approximately $916,000.

September 2007

Wiseguy supervise an effort to register for purchase codes needed for the New York Yankees ticket lottery that limited sales of playoff tickets to two per person. The codes and the bot program netted 1,250 tickets.

Sept. 8-Dec. 15, 2007

[Photo]

Using the bot programs, Wiseguy purchase close to 12,000 tickets for Bruce Springsteen tours nationally, including half of all 440 general admission tickets for the July 28, 2008, concert at Giants Stadium.

Sept. 14, 2007

Wiseguy registers 999 Internet domain names that would create unique e-mail accounts for their mass purchases. Company e-mails also show a plan to register 100,000 Internet Protocol or IP addresses, the numbers assigned to a computer connected to the Internet. Vendors are suspicious of purchases where the IP address and credit cardholder's information don't line up.

Dec. 16, 2007

Ticketmaster blocks thousands of IP addresses. On March 2, 2008, it blocks 1,200 more.

May 2-4 2008

Wiseguy employees spend days entering answers to audio CAPTCHA puzzles into files.

June 6, 2008

Wiseguy continues building a voicemail system with a goal of 1,000 seemingly unrelated phone numbers that could be used to make it appear they belonged to individual ticket buyers.

Sept. 15, 2008

E-mail explains a "new explicit stealth protocol" using the bank of 100,000 IP addresses.

Sept. 30, 2008

Wiseguy weighs using Internet proxies -- servers that would be intermediaries to preserve anonymity. Wiseguy leased servers on an hourly basis from Amazon.com so staff could watch for the exact moment tickets went on sale, rush the electronic ticket window, then terminate the lease.

SOURCES: Staff reports | CREDITS: Photo of Hannah Montana by Disney; Photo of Bruce Springsteen by Bill Kostroun/AP; Graphic by Bill Webster, Sisi Wei - The Washington Post, April 2, 2010.
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