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Sophos: NASA hacker denied UK trial

February 2009 by Sophos

Sophos is questioning whether North American authorities are making an example of NASA hacker, Gary McKinnon, while other more serious cybercriminals escape and prove hard to catch.

Earlier today, the British Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) refused to bring charges against McKinnon in the UK, leaving him one step closer to extradition to the United States. US authorities maintain that McKinnon caused nearly a million dollars worth of damage after allegedly hacking into computers belonging to the US Army, US Navy, US Air Force, Department of Defense and NASA. The hacker from North London claims he was simply looking to uncover confidential information about anti-gravity propulsion systems and extraterrestrial technology.

"What’s fascinating about McKinnon’s ongoing saga is that the IT community is showing a lot of sympathy for his plight, and today’s news will come as a blow," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos. "The real question is should we really be making such an example of a guy who was apparently just a UFO conspiracy theory nut? There’s a danger that McKinnon is being used as a whipping-boy by a country embarrassed about the poor security of its computers in the months after 9/11."

A poll conducted by Sophos in 2006 found that 52 percent of IT professionals felt that McKinnon should not be extradited. A separate survey the following year revealed that less than half believed that jail would be an appropriate punishment if he was found guilty.

"It looks like McKinnon is sliding relentlessly closer to his unwilling departure via Heathrow Airport," continued Cluley. "His last hope may have to be that America under the leadership of Barack Obama will show more sympathy than previous administrations."

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