UFO-Seeking British Hacker May Face US Trial

British UFO enthusiast Gary McKinnon, who hacked into U.S. military computers in 2001 and 2002, lost his extradition appeal Tuesday in London’s High Court.

McKinnon is accused of hacking into 97 U.S. military and NASA computers in the hopes of finding secret data on UFOs. He was charged in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, and could face up to 60 years in prison.

McKinnon is still free on bail and will likely appeal the decision to the House of Lords, according to reports.

Record-Setting Attack

McKinnon admits to using “RemotelyAnywhere” software to hack into the government computers, but he maintains he never did any harm. The U.S. government, however, says he caused US$700,000 in damages and the shutdown of critical military computers.

The intrusions, which are considered one of the largest cyberattacks on the U.S. government, came in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Tuesday’s news was the result of McKinnon’s second challenge to U.S. extradition orders. The first such order came in May 2006, and McKinnon’s attorney fought that order on the grounds that McKinnon could be treated as a terrorism suspect if forced to stand trial in the United States. John Reid, U.K. Home Secretary, approved the extradition order, however, and so McKinnon appealed again.

‘Serious Transgressions’

“This is a sad situation for a hacker,” technology attorney Raymond Van Dyke told TechNewsWorld. “His timing, around 9/11 and its aftermath, and very sensitive targets, numerous military computer systems no less, were serious transgressions.

“As exclaimed in the show the ‘X-Files,’ the truth is out there,” Van Dyke noted. “What this case shows is that hackers in search of such truths must beware when cracking into military computers and damaging systems and files, especially in the aftermath of 9/11. The truth here is that such cybercrimes do not pay.”

“This is clearly an important case in terms of keeping people out of the government cookie jar,” Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst for the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. “Unfortunately his timing placed him in these crosshairs, when he’s clearly not a cyberterrorist. But sometimes if you do something wrong, even if your reasons weren’t that nefarious, it’s not the intent but the actual act that gets you in trouble.”

A Law Is Still a Law

“The laws have become quite strict in recent years on computer intrusions,” cybercrime lawyer Parry Aftab told TechNewsWorld. “We have to take these crimes seriously and recognize that what may sound funny is just an indication of how seriously computer intrusions can affect our security and financial well-being.

“The international angle doesn’t make any difference,” Aftab added. “A lot of people think that because a crime was perpetrated in cyberspace, special issues arise. But it’s still breaking a law.”

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