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From: mea culpa (jerichoat_private)
Date: Thu Aug 06 1998 - 13:56:59 PDT

  • Next message: mea culpa: "[ISN] Internet security breach causes industry outrage"

    Forwarded From: Simon Taplin <stickerat_private>
    Kicking Crackers Off the Grid    
    by Arik Hesseldahl               
    9:05am 5.Aug.98.PDT If convicted, the two teenagers who earlier this year
    demonstrated the vulnerability of US military computer networks will
    likely accept the usual punishment doled out to crackers:  They'll be
    barred from computers and the Internet. 
    But critics say that such restrictions may not be the best punishment for
    computer crimes -- and could point to a wider fear of technology on the
    part of the legal system. 
    US Attorney Michael Yamaguchi's recommendations, made last week, would bar
    the two Northern California teens, "Makaveli," 16, and "TooShort," 15,
    from unsupervised computer use, owning a modem, and seeking employment in
    the computer security field during their probation. 
    Both teens pleaded guilty to several charges relating to illegally
    accessing sensitive military and government computers in February of this
    year. The pair is expected to be formally sentenced in several months. 
    Mike Roadancer, president of the Hackers Defense Foundation and a
    convicted cracker, called the computer-use quarantines usually recommended
    in such cases a joke. 
    "These kinds of restrictions don't even touch the issue of responsible use
    of technology. They don't serve any purpose other than to make these kids
    bitter and angry," he said. 
    "Personally, I think that if anything, they should be encouraged in the
    responsible use of technology," Roadancer said. 
    A San Francisco criminal defense attorney who specializes in computer
    crime cases agreed. 
    "From a political standpoint, what the computer-use restrictions say is
    that what we're concerned about is a threat from someone with skills plus
    tools plus knowledge," said Jennifer Granick, who operates a private
    "In this day and age we should be embracing skills and tools and
    knowledge," she said. 
    At first glance, the recommended restrictions seem to resemble those
    placed on another alleged cracker, Kevin Mitnick, who until recently was
    barred from using a computer while preparing his defense. 
    Mitnick, who has been in a federal prison for more than three years
    awaiting trial on 25 counts of computer-related fraud and theft, has
    recently been allowed the use of a laptop to examine the evidence against
    In an age in which computers are fast becoming a part of daily life, are
    such restrictions realistic and enforceable? Will they make a difference
    or serve as a deterrent? And whose interest do such restrictions serve? 
    Opinions from other computer security specialists and advocates vary. 
    It's a "close question," said Barry Steinhardt, executive director of the
    Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has not taken a formal position on
    the restrictions placed upon accused or convicted crackers. 
    "As an alternative to incarceration, it is clearly less punitive. But on
    the other hand, I hate to see people being asked to waive their First
    Amendment rights." 
    Granick draws a clear distinction between imposing such restrictions as
    part of a probationary period and after parole from prison. 
    "In the case of probation, the court can impose restrictions on activity
    intended to serve the interests of public safety, but it's also intended
    to be a period of rehabilitation for the defendant," said Granick, who
    briefly represented Kevin Poulsen, a cracker who served federal time for
    breaking into a Los Angeles radio station's telephone contest in 1990. 
    "The system wants to move this person to a place where they won't be
    committing more crimes," she said. 
    Granick said the system should be focused more on understanding and
    eliminating a hacker's motives for committing crimes. 
    For Terry Ewing, who served 18 months in federal prison for crimes he
    committed as the cracker "Purpcon," not having computer-use restrictions
    following his release has allowed him the means to pay his fines and
    Ewing pleaded guilty in 1995 to charges that he broke into Tower Records'
    computers and stole credit card numbers and password files. 
    Before his sentence was handed down, an investigation determined that
    computers and the Internet were the tools of his trade, and that limiting
    his use of them would inhibit his ability to pay more than US$19,000 he
    owes the court. 
    "Without the ability to use a computer for my work, and to increase my
    skills, I would have been left behind," said Ewing, who works as an
    administrator for two Internet service providers in Sacramento,
    California. "I can't imagine where I would be if I had to pay my current
    bills without being able to do what I know best. It still scares me to
    think how close I came to that." 
    But before he went to trial, he wasn't allowed to go near a computer. "I
    literally had to take a job serving pizza.  I had to actively look for
    work that didn't require use of a computer. I was lucky the place I found
    didn't do what most businesses have done, and use a computer for a cash
    register," he said. 
    But Roadancer -- of the Hackers Defense Foundation -- may prove the most
    interesting case study in the long-term effectiveness of computer
    restriction sentences. Since his wire fraud conviction in the early 1980s,
    he has worked on computer system management for such clients as the US
    Justice Department and the US Navy. 
    "I learned the responsible use of technology and applied it to help my
    clients," he said. 
    "But I would not have been able to do that if the court had told me 'no
    more computers, no more modems.'" 
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