UK teenager sentenced for hacking

By : |February 3, 2004 0

LONDON: A London teenager was sentenced on Monday to 200 hours of community service for hacking into the computer system of a U.S. physics research laboratory to store his personal collection of music and film files.

Joseph James McElroy, 18, of Woodford Green, told Southwark Crown Court in London that he hacked into 17 computer systems at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Chicago over a two-week period in June 2002 to store and exchange hundreds of gigabytes worth of computer files with his friends.

The U.S. Department of Energy had sought 21,000 pounds ($38,000) in compensation for the breach, which forced technicians to shut down a portion of the computer network for three days, the court was told.

The government-funded laboratory does advanced research into subatomic particles, plus research on nuclear weapons.

In October, McElroy, a student at Exeter University in southwest England, pleaded guilty to violating Britain’s Computer Misuse Act. The law, which covers a broad range of computer crimes from hacking to virus writing, carries a maximum prison term of five years.

Judge Andrew Goymer waived demands to repay the U.S. Department of Energy on grounds the breach at no point compromised the laboratory’s confidential research data.

The laboratory, renowned for discovering the smallest elements of matter in the universe, has one of the largest computer facilities on the planet capable of storing vast amounts of research data.

For years, people have been hacking into corporate and university computer systems to store massive caches of film and music files when their own computers run out of disc space.

In such piggy-backing schemes, large institutions and corporations are chosen because the files can go undetected for long periods amid a sea of data.

A joint investigation between the Department of Energy and New Scotland Yard’s Computer Crime Unit in Britain traced the break-in to McElroy in July 2003 after they identified his IP address, an identifier that matches computer users with their computer.

McElroy told police he was unaware the computers belonged to a government-funded research laboratory.


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