Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Secrets, Lies, and Email Passwords

British hacker Gary McKinnon apparently was able to crack over 90 computer systems at various government agencies of the United States, including NASA, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Air Force, and the Department of Defense in 2001 and 2002. He was apparently hunting for secrets about aliens. No, he wasn't searching for illegal immigrants, but rather, aliens from outer space. He believed that the U.S. government was hiding evidence that these aliens exist, and maybe hiding materials and bodies of dead aliens, as well. I hope that if he's extradited and then tried, the judge goes easy on him. Yes, he's guilty of embarrassing several U.S. government agencies by breaking into their computer systems and rifling through data. It shouldn't have been so easy for him to do. The layers of management who didn't take network and information system security seriously until 9/11 will not be on trial, and they certainly bear partial responsibility for contributing to this problem. Mr. McKinnon wasn't the only person to break into many computer systems at these (and other) agencies during the late 1990s and early 2000s, he just happens to be one of the very, very few who were caught. One could say that Mr. McKinnon is a victim here, too, as well as a perpetrator. That is to say, he's a victim of a free market in, and cottage industry of, ideas about conspiracy. Yeah, there probably are some government conspiracies. It's a big, big government that has done some embarrassing things they would like to hide. Most of those things are probably mundane. Hiding the bodies of aliens that crash landed in Roswell, New Mexico, is not likely to be among them. He should have been reading the Bad Astronomy blog. Phil Plait (Bad Astronomer) on UFOs Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy: Rebuttal to a Bad Boook Review from a UFO, uhm, enthusiast Apparently Mr. McKinnon was caught because some action of his was traced back to the email account of his girlfriend.
Alleged Pentagon hacker loses extradition appeal
"McKinnon has acknowledged accessing the computers, but he disputes the reported damage and said he did it because he wanted to find evidence that America was concealing the existence of aliens. He was caught in 2002 after some of the software used in the attacks was traced back to his girlfriend's e-mail account."
If there is a lesson to be learned here, it's probably this: If your Significant Other is a UFO hunting nut job and a computer whiz, don't let him or her know your passwords, change them regularly, and for good measure, use a Macintosh.