British teen-ager tapped U.S. defense computers

January 09, 1995|By Cox News Service

LONDON -- Using a personal computer at his London home, a teen-ager penetrated a sensitive U.S. defense computer network last spring at the height of the U.S.-North Korea confrontation over nuclear inspections.

The 17-year-old boy may be prosecuted under Britain's Computer Misuse Act, British officials say.

The hacker set off alarms on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond as he put information from the defense system into a global computer network, the Internet, which is accessible to about 35 million people.

His access to the defense computer network triggered a probe by the FBI, the Secret Service, the Defense Information System and the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington.

Scotland Yard, North Korea and the Internet also investigated the incident.

The youth breached a computer system at Griffiths Air Force Base in Rome, N.Y., that housed the Korea files, according to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. The youth's name is being kept secret because he is a minor under British law.

The teen-ager, who was 16 when he learned the passwords that sprung the Griffiths computers, also entered other defense systems in the same computer network, said Maj. Jim Pasierb, an Office of Special Investigations spokesman.

The Independent, a British daily newspaper, reported that the teen-ager read "secret communications between U.S. agents in North Korea" during the dispute over whether North Korea would allow international inspections of its nuclear program.

The newspaper said that after reading the secret reports, the hacker put them on the Internet.

Major Pasierb strongly denied that the hacker tapped into any secret or classified information.

"I want to make it perfectly clear there was nothing confidential, nothing classified on the computers. There was only unclassified technical and engineering data," Major Pasierb said.

But Major Pasierb said the youth put the information he obtained on the Internet. He described the youth as "probably bored, mischievous, with time on his hands and with more knowledge of computers than the average person."

The youth has been free on bond since Scotland Yard arrested him May 5.

Once U.S. officials discovered the youth's activities, they caught him in a week, Major Pasierb said. But the youth was probably reading the computers for weeks, maybe even months, before he was detected.

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