An unemployed Scottish man alleged to have carried out “the biggest military computer hack of all time” will appear in a London court today.
Clearly not one to merely dabble, Gary McKinnon, 39, faces extradition after being accused of gaining illegal access and fiddling about with files on no less than 53 US military and NASA computers over a 12-month period from 2001 to 2002.
Using software downloaded off the Internet, McKinnon allegedly hacked his way into almost 100 networks operated by NASA, the US Army, US Navy, Department of Defence and the US Air Force, with the US government estimating that his antics have cost around one million dollars (£570,000, €790,000) to track down and fix.
Originally from Milton, Glasgow, the north London resident was indicted in 2002 by a Federal Grand Jury on eight counts of computer-related crimes in 14 different States.
The indictment claims he successfully hacked into an Army computer at Fort Myer, Virginia and then indulged in a veritable orgy of hacking merriment after obtaining administrator privileges.
McKinnon is alleged to have transmitted codes, information and commands, deleted critical system files, copied username and password files and installed tools to gain unauthorised access to other machines before finishing off with a flurry and deleting around 1,300 user accounts.
In New Jersey, it’s claimed he hacked into the Earle Naval Weapons Station network and plundered 950 passwords a few days after 9/11, which resulted in the entire base being effectively shut down for a week.
With a sense of the dramatic, Paul McNulty, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, announced that “Mr McKinnon is charged with the biggest military computer hack of all time” at the time of his indictment in 2002.
Investigators found that many of the computers he allegedly hacked were ‘protected’ by easily guessed passwords, and although sensitive information was downloaded, no classified material was released.
Investigators found no evidence of data being offered to foreign governments or evil terrorist organisations, prompting his solicitor, Karen Todner, to suggest that the motivation for the extradition is political with the intent to make an example of McKinnon.
“The Crown Prosecution Service has the power and opportunity to charge Mr McKinnon, a British citizen, with offences for which he could stand trial in this country,” she said.
“However, they have chosen not to pursue this course of action and are allowing the American authorities to apply for the extradition of a British citizen,” Todner added.
If extradited and found guilty, McKinnon could face a maximum penalty of five years in the slammer and a £157,000 (~US $288,249.48 ~ €233,953.42) fine.