In 2002, the Department of Justice indicted (in absentia) a resident of the UK, Gary McKinnon, of hacking into DOD and NASA computers and causing almost a million dollars worth of damages. Yesterday, they got around to trying to extradite him for trial.McKinnon, a self described UFO fan, was apparently searching for files labeled "Area 51" or other evidence that the US is concealing all it knows about extraterrestrial life. McKinnon says that any damage was accidental, when he tried to cover his tracks by erasing data. He must have been disappointed, as he found nothing about UFOs.His biggest crime appears to be that he kept 2000 DOD and NASA computers from being able to access the internet for three days in the Spring of 2002 (although many were still able to send and receive email). As with most computer crimes, no one noticed any visible tremors of panic in the DC area.McKinnon did not, DOD says, gain access to any classified information. He got access to unclassified systems as a result of sloppy security practices (not changing the default password), but he now says that he was closed out by DOD administrators soon after getting in.70 years in jail (which is what the US is threatening him with) seems excessive. That an unemployed Brit with a UFO mania was able to tromp around unclassified DOD computers is embarrassing, and he deserves a stiff fine, some community service, and maybe a little jail time.The real issue is who else is tromping around, perhaps a bit more skillfully, not leaving tracks, and not confining themselves to searching for UFO data. McKinnon himself said "I was always very frightened when I realized there were always other people from all over the world on there [the DOD networks]."Even if McKinnon was unable to access classified data, people at DOJ say (off the record) that he was able to look at weapons R&D material that shouldn't be public. The internet has been a tremendous boon for espionage, and if McKinnon found a way to get in, we have to assume that other, more professional types, did so as well.
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