Office break-ins. The digital theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars. And a black Mercedes cruising the rainy city streets, equipped with the latest wireless technology to crack into corporate Wi-Fi networks.
This real-life high-tech thriller first came to light in April, when Seattle cops began to suspect two local men of pulling off dozens of digital burglaries.
The duo would roam around the city in a specially outfitted black Mercedes sedan, "war driving" to locate and break into business Wi-Fi networks that happened to be running outdated security software.
Last week those two men and a third, all in their 30s, were indicted in federal court in Seattle, accused of defrauding at least 53 area businesses of several hundred thousand dollars.
In some cases, the trio would physically break into offices late at night to plant malware on the computers, authorities said. The malware would later add the gang members to company payrolls, and even give them raises.
In the "war driving" incidents, the black Mercedes would detect corporate Wi-Fi routers that were still using the 12-year-old WEP wireless security standard, which is nearly useless.
Security experts stressed that all businesses, small or large, should upgrade their wireless routers to use the new, much more secure WPA or WPA2 security protocols.
The case began to unravel when the owner of the Mercedes was caught trying to use stolen gift cards in a Seattle wine bar. Police soon linked him to the two other men, who were already known as professional burglars.
"They were both sophisticated and opportunistic," U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "[They] were living life large, and it caught up with them."