UFO Hunter or Something More?
Christie added that McKinnon's own statements will come into play during trial. He often has told the British press that he simply was in the military systems looking for covered-up information on UFOs. However, according to a legal judgment from the House of Lords, when McKinnon was being interview by law enforcement in the U.K., he admitted to leaving a note on one Army computer reading, "US foreign policy is akin to government-sponsored terrorism these days... It was not a mistake that there was a huge security stand down on September 11 last year... I am SOLO. I will continue to disrupt at the highest levels... "
McKinnon confessed to the intrusions but denied causing any damage.
Christie said being inconsistent about his story could hurt McKinnon's case. "It goes more to jury appeal," he said, adding that McKinnon would be more likely to come off looking like an eccentric if he appears to have been someone on a quest for information about UFOs concealed by the government. But if he strikes the jury as someone who attacked U.S. military computers because he disagreed with the country's foreign policy, that's a whole different matter.
"It [would] show him to be much more deliberate, methodical and vindictive than otherwise," said Christie. "I would imagine that the government is going to... try to show that he's not this eccentric, but that he is using that as his cover story where his real motivation is attacking the government and the military because of U.S. policies... Regardless of his explanation, he still shouldn't have accessed computers and been rummaging around and doing what he was doing."
Christie also noted that a big part of the government's job will be to prove their allegations that McKinnon's actions actually damaged the systems. Prosecutors in both New Jersey and Virginia will have to convince a jury that McKinnon's break-ins were directly linked to computer malfunctions, lost data and subsequent financial damages.
"It appears he has acknowledged gaining unauthorized access to these military computer networks, but it also appears that he does not believe he caused any damage in the course of his rooting around these computer systems," said Christie. "I don't think [this case] is a home run. The government will need to demonstrate that he caused damage... which may not be the easiest thing to prove. The government, through Mr. McKinnon's admissions, is halfway to the goal line but still has a ways to go."
For Schmidt, it doesn't matter why McKinnon was in the system. The issues are that he was in there and that he allegedly opened up easy access for anyone else to secretly get in and out, as well.
"I don't buy 'I was looking for hidden spaceships'," said Schmidt. "That doesn't wash for me... Anytime you create an unauthorized entry point, it means not only one person could have used it to get into the system. Who else could have used it to piggyback into the system?"
Schmidt added that while it was "troubling" that the naval station's system could be compromised for five months without anyone noticing, he thinks security has been multiplied since then.
"We're much more focused on cyber security now," he said. "The controls weren't in place then. Emphasis on information security wasn't there at the time. Every year we get better. It doesn't mean we have vulnerabilities, but we are better."
This story, "'UFO Hunter' Hack Looked Like a Terrorist Attack" was originally published by Computerworld.