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Sophos: NASA Hacker McKinnon could face Britsh prosecution

January 2009 by Sophos

Sophos is reminding cybercriminals of the severe consequences of hacking following the latest twist in Gary McKinnon’s long-running prosecution saga. The infamous ‘NASA hacker’ who broke into computer systems belonging to NASA, Department of Defense, the US Army, US Navy and US Army, has now told the British Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) that he would plead guilty if prosecuted in Britain.

McKinnon’s lawyers informed the CPS that the self-confessed computer enthusiast, who is facing extradition to the United States following the European Court of Human Rights’ decision in August 2008, would admit to offences under the Computer Misuse Act. If McKinnon were found guilty and punished in the UK, it would make extradition to the USA unlikely.

Over the past six and a half years McKinnon’s supporters have aggressively fought to prevent the London-based hacker from being extradited to the United States, where they claim he will be treated as a scapegoat. A poll conducted by Sophos* asking IT professionals whether they thought he should be extradited to the US revealed a near 50/50 split with less than half (48 percent) in favour of extradition, compared to 52 percent against.

“McKinnon has had tremendous support from the hacker community and even ordinary people – many IT workers have a lot of sympathy for his ongoing plight and would rather see him tried in Britain as opposed to the US,” said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant. “Any form of hacking is illegal and should be punished as such, and hacking into US government networks is bound to come with harsh repercussions – anyone thinking about engaging in these types of activities in the future should think twice. This man’s sorry tale should warn other would-be hackers that they are playing with fire if they break into sensitive networks, and shouldn’t be surprised if the full force of the law goes after them.”

McKinnon has admitted that he broke into sensitive US military networks, but says it was only to hunt for confidential information about anti-gravity propulsion systems and UFO technology which he believed the authorities were hiding from the public. US authorities, meanwhile, allege that McKinnon stole 950 passwords and deleted files at a naval base in New Jersey, responsible for replenishing munitions and supplies for the Atlantic fleet.

*Sophos online survey, 565 respondents, 2006

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