The case of the "biggest military computer hack of all time" is fascinating. Was the 39 year-old unemployed programmer really an evil mastermind as some of the press have been suggesting? Or just a normal chap with an overly developed interest in UFOs and a working knowledge of computers?
There are several things about this case that just don't seem right. Why did the US authorities wait for over two years before starting the case? Why were the military systems so poorly protected? And where did the estimate for $700,000 worth of damage come from?
The last figure is particularly suspect. In his excellent history of the first days of the digital underground, Bruce Sterling recorded the method used by one particular company to estimate the damage caused by a document being stolen.
The company charged for two writers and an editor, as well as the hardware they produced it on, and came up with a damages figure in the hundreds of thousands. They were later shown to be selling the same document for under $10.
The key to all these cases is to look critically at the facts, the facts and nothing but the facts. Based on the evidence so far, McKinnon may be guilty. But the sentence he faces far outweighs the seriousness of his actions.
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