[ISN] Jurors acquit man of hacking system at district clerk's office

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Mon Feb 24 2003 - 03:16:54 PST

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    Feb. 20, 2003
    Jurors needed only about 15 minutes to acquit a Houston man who was 
    accused of hacking into the Harris County district clerk's wireless 
    computer system in March. 
    One juror, Helen Smith, 62, said she and the other jurors found that 
    Stefan Puffer indeed hacked into the system but they did not believe 
    he caused any damage as the government had alleged. 
    "We didn't feel he intentionally wanted to do damage, but just to 
    embarrass" the county, Smith said. 
    Puffer, 34, was charged in July on two counts of unauthorized access 
    into a protected computer system and unauthorized access of a computer 
    system used in justice administration. Prosecutors said the county 
    spent more than $5,000 to clean up the system after the break-in. 
    "Throughout the trial we proved -- at least it was clear -- the county 
    had their wireless butt out and they were trying to use Stefan as a 
    scapegoat," said Ed Chernoff, Puffer's attorney. 
    Puffer, who briefly worked for the county clerk's office in 1999, 
    declined to comment through his attorney. 
    Federal prosecutor Richard Berry referred questions to U.S. Attorney 
    Michael Shelby who said while he respected the jury's verdict, he 
    disagreed with their findings. 
    "The allegation is that this man intentionally invaded a cyberspace 
    that did not belong to him that is essential to function of a 
    government entity," Shelby said. "We should not allow that intrusion 
    in our homes, and we can't allow it to systems so critical to (daily) 
    At the start of the three-day trial in a Houston federal court, Berry 
    said Puffer hacked into the system three times in March, but he was 
    indicted for only one instance on March 8. 
    One breach occurred March 18, when Puffer showed clerk's office 
    officials and a Houston Chronicle reporter how he was able to break 
    into the system using his laptop, a computer program and a phone card. 
    Chernoff told jurors in his closing argument Thursday that the 
    publicity from the Chronicle article embarrassed Harris County 
    District Clerk Charles Bacarrisse. He said Bacarrisse pressured the 
    U.S. attorney's office to charge Puffer so he could escape blame when 
    he seeks re-election. 
    Both Shelby and Bacarrisse brushed aside the notion. 
    Bacarrisse said he was indeed embarrassed by the breach, and he simply 
    reported the incident to proper authorities. 
    "Yes, I was embarrassed by discovering in the early stages of testing 
    a wireless system we were not using the highest available level of 
    security," Bacarrisse said. "The next attempt at intrusion will 
    encounter a far higher level of security." 
    Berry dismissed Chernoff's "conspiracy" theory in his closing 
    argument. He described Puffer as a computer hacker who thought he was 
    more clever than clerk's office employees. But, Puffer was caught by 
    the footprints he left behind when he hacked into the system and by 
    his own words to FBI agents, Berry said. 
    An FBI agent testified that Puffer asked during questioning what 
    punishment he faced if he was found guilty. Berry interpreted the 
    question as an admission of guilt. 
    Puffer faced up to five years in a federal prison per count. 
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