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Kernell pleads innocent to Palin hack charge

Tenn. student released, banned from using a computer except for school

October 8, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - David Kernell, the Tennessee college student charged with hacking the e-mail account of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, pleaded innocent today and was released without bond, according to court documents.

Kernell, 20, of Knoxville, Tenn., was arraigned before a federal judge Wednesday, a day after a grand jury indicted him on one count of accessing a computer without authorization. Earlier in the day, Kernell turned himself in to the FBI, said a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) spokeswoman in Washington.

After Kernell pleaded not guilty, he was released on his own recognizance. However, the court imposed conditions on Kernell, a student at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, before releasing him. A DOJ spokeswoman in Knoxville confirmed that they include a ban on owning a computer and a restriction on Kernell's use of the Internet to e-mail and his college coursework.

Kernell was also forbidden from having any contact with Gov. Palin or her family, and he can't travel outside eastern Tennessee without the approval of a probation officer.

Kernell's trial date has been set for Dec. 16, with a pretrial conference scheduled for Dec. 2.

Kernell, the son of Mike Kernell, a longtime Democratic state representative from Memphis, allegedly broke into the Alaska governor's Yahoo Mail account three weeks ago by using the Web mail service's password-reset feature. After he accessed the "gov.palin@yahoo.com" account, he took screenshots of several messages and posted them on a public board, the grand jury said.

According to the indictment, Kernell used the alias "Rubico" when he bragged about the hack online, then later tried to cover his tracks by deleting and changing files on his laptop computer.

Amateur Internet detectives linked Kernell to the Rubico username shortly after the attack was made public. Several days later, Gabriel Ramuglia, the webmaster of a proxy service used by Rubico traced the hacker's IP address to an Illinois company that provides Internet service to the Knoxville apartment complex where Kernell lives. The FBI searched Kernell's apartment on Sept. 21.

In a statement issued today by the U.S. attorney's office in Knoxville, FBI special agent in charge Richard Lambert applauded the help that sources provided authorities. "We would like to thank all of the internet service providers and others who partnered with us to bring this matter to a quick and successful resolution," he said.

If convicted, Kernell faces up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

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