NASA Hacker May be Tried in UK

NASA hacker Gary McKinnon could be prosecuted in the UK after his lawyers informed the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) that he would enter a guilty plea if the case was heard in the U.K.

McKinnon broke into U.S. military computers, including those belonging to NASA, in 2001 in a bid to prove the U.S. government has knowledge of UFOs.

Graphic: Diego Aguirre
While McKinnon says his exploits did not cause any damage, the U.S. allege that McKinnon stole 950 passwords and deleted files at a naval base in New Jersey, responsible for replenishing munitions and supplies for the Atlantic fleet. They also maintain the intrusions disrupted computer networks used by the military that were critical to operations conducted after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The U.S. estimates the damage caused by McKinnon at $700,000.

McKinnon currently faces extradition to the U.S. to stand trial, following the European Court of Human Rights' decision in August 2008. However, this latest move by his lawyers, means that if McKinnon was found guilty, he would be punished in the U.K. and extradition would be very unlikely.

"McKinnon has had tremendous support from the hacker community and even ordinary people - many IT workers have a lot of sympathy for his ongoing plight and would rather see him tried in Britain as opposed to the U.S.," said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at security firm Sophos.

"Any form of hacking is illegal and should be punished as such, and hacking into U.S. government networks is bound to come with harsh repercussions -- anyone thinking about engaging in these types of activities in the future should think twice. This man's sorry tale should warn other would-be hackers that they are playing with fire if they break into sensitive networks, and shouldn't be surprised if the full force of the law goes after them."

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