[ISN] Connecticut teen charged with hacking into Air Force computer system

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Tue Apr 24 2001 - 14:14:15 PDT

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    April 24, 2001
    A 15-year-old Connecticut youth faces charges of hacking into a
    government computer system that tracks the positions of U.S. Air Force
    planes worldwide, according to government officials.
    Officials said the air control data, considered confidential in peace
    time and secret in times of war, wasn't compromised and no one's
    safety was jeopardized.
    The teen, whose name is being withheld because he is a juvenile, was
    13 when he allegedly hacked into the secure connection between the Air
    Mobility Command system at Scott Air Force Base in Belleville, Ill.
    and a U.S. Department of Transportation computer system at the Volpe
    Center in Cambridge, Mass. The hack occurred on March 28, 2000,
    officials said.
    The suspect faces criminal charges for the break-in from the Cambridge
    Juvenile Court, according to Massachusetts Attorney General Tom
    Reilly, whose office is prosecuting the case. The office of U.S.
    Attorney Daniel Stern handled the initial investigation.
    "The computer networks that were attacked here provide important
    services to our government and our Armed Forces; they are not
    playgrounds for teenagers to explore," Reilly said in statement.
    An Air Force systems administrator discovered that someone had broken
    into the computer systems March 28, 2000, officials said. The Air
    Force and DOT investigators set up monitoring teams inside the Volpe
    Center and at Scott Air Force Base to trace any further intrusions.
    They determined that on March 30 and March 31, 2000, an intruder
    entered the Volpe Center's system and used a "sniffer" program to
    secretly intercept all wire communications, officials said. The hacker
    also ran a program that destroyed the electronic data files that
    recorded his presence on the system. Total damage to the systems was
    about $66,000 officials said. Officials said the breach through which
    the teen gained access to the computers has been closed.
    By April 11, 2000, Air Force investigators had traced the intrusions
    to the teenager's Connecticut home. DOT and other government agents
    then executed a search warrant at the teen's home, where they seized
    computers that were allegedly used to hack into the government
    systems, according to officials.
    "Although the intruder in this instance was a juvenile, the damage to
    Air Force systems was significant," Air Force Special Agent C. Damon
    Hecker, said in the statement.
    Air Force officials couldn't be reached for further comment.
    Steven Aftergood, who runs the Project on Government Secrecy at the
    Federation of American Scientists in Washington, said the Air Forces
    systems were simply not secure.
    "There are a handful of very bright [13]-year-olds out there who can
    do remarkable things, and there are not-so-bright [13]-year-olds who
    have access to software designed by others to [detect] and explore
    security vulnerabilities," Aftergood said.
    Aftergood said that at any moment, someone is testing the security of
    government and nongovernment computer systems. The problem, he said,
    is that administrators pay attention to potential security
    vulnerabilities only after their systems have been hacked, not before.
    "You only install a burglar alarm after your house has been broken
    into," he said.
    The teen will be charged with one count of malicious destruction of
    property, a felony carrying a maximum sentence of 10 years; one count
    of illegally intercepting wire communications for operating a sniffer
    program on the Volpe Center computer, which carries a maximum sentence
    of five years; and four counts of unauthorized access to a computer
    system, each of which carries a maximum of 30 days.
    However, according to Massachusetts Assistant District Attorney John
    Grossman, because the teen is being charged as a juvenile, he could
    face being incarcerated only until he is 21, and if he is found
    guilty, he is expected to receive a lesser punishment.
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