Teen hacker pleads guilty to crippling Mass. airport Worcester field's contact with planes was reduced to cell phone, small radios

March 19, 1998|By BOSTON GLOBE

BOSTON -- A Massachusetts teen-ager has pleaded guilty to invading a telephone company computer last winter, knocking out communications to the tower at Worcester Regional Airport, and cutting phone service to hundreds of residents in a nearby town.

The youth, whose name and age are being withheld under federal law, was the first juvenile ever charged by the federal government with a computer crime, according to the U.S. attorney's office in Boston, which announced the charges and plea agreement yesterday.

The computer breach March 10, 1997, knocked out phone and radio transmission to the control tower at the Worcester airport for six hours, forcing controllers to rely on one cellular phone and battery-powered radios to direct planes.

"We relied on our backup systems and thank goodness they worked," said Joseph Hogan, who manages the control tower at Worcester and 26 other airports for the Federal Aviation Administration. "Had we been busier, the potential for a serious incident with dire consequences was there."

The teen also was charged with using his home computer to download records from a major pharmacy chain in the Worcester area. No prescriptions were changed and the information was not shared, authorities said.

Under the agreement with federal prosecutors, the youth has agreed to plead guilty, serve two years' probation, perform 250 hours of community service, and reimburse Bell Atlantic for $5,000 it spent to detect the breach.

U.S. Attorney Donald K. Stern said the case challenges the notion that hacking is harmless fun.

Pub Date: 3/19/98

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