A man charged with hacking into US government computers is being held in a federal jail in Los Angeles. Jason Diekman, a 20-year-old resident of Mission Viejo, California, is being charged with gaining unauthorised access to government computers in hacking incidents involving the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), as well as computers at, among others, Stanford, Harvard and Cornell universities.
The complaint against Diekman includes charges that he used the JPL's computers to intercept electronic communication, caused over $US17,000 in damage to Stanford computers, and intercepted login names and passwords from computers at Harvard. Diekman allegedly had access to the NASA systems that control a number of NASA satellites. He is also charged with possessing nearly 500 stolen credit card numbers.
Diekman, who used the online aliases "Shadow Knight" and "Dark Lord," is scheduled to be arraigned Oct. 2.
Until Thursday, when Diekman was taken into federal custody, he was being held in an Orange County, California, jail on charges that he had stolen power supplies from Cox Cable and was storing them in his home.
If convicted for hacking, Diekman could face as many as 26 years in prison, as well as fines up to $US750,000.
Diekman's arrest comes only one day after a 16-year-old Miami hacker pleaded guilty to illegally accessing government computers and agreed to serve jail time.
These incidents have focused attention, once again, on the security of the Internet.
"The vast majority of systems installed on the Internet, upon installation, (are) vulnerable to an attack," said Alan Paller, the director of research for the Systems Administration, Networking, and Security Institute (SANS), in Bethesda, Maryland.
There are only three or four techniques used in most hacks, according to Paller. These techniques exploit security holes in common software. One vulnerability, Paller said, is found in 21 percent of all name servers on the Internet (the computers that translate IP addresses into URLs, such as www.idg.net). The second, a flaw in the Apache Web server, is found in 65 percent of all Web servers, Paller said.
Paller admits that some may find this information alarming.
"It's not a pretty picture," he said, "and it's just as bad as it seems." But Paller stressed that these are not issues that should trouble the average citizen. Solutions are on the way, he said, and more than likely, it is only companies, or maybe the government, not consumers, who may be injured by hacking.