Teen hacker pleads guilty, sentenced to serve time

A juvenile hacker in Miami pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months in a detention facility for breaking into computers at NASA and the Department of Defense.

In making the announcement yesterday, the Department of Justice said this is the first instance a convicted juvenile hacker has been sentenced to serve time.

In a U.S. District Court in Miami, the 16-year-old, who went by the name "cOmrade" on the Internet, admitted to a number of computer break-ins dating from Aug. 23, 1999 to Oct. 27, 1999. He made his way into a military computer network used by the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA). The youth also managed to gain unauthorized access to a server located in Dulles, Va., and installed backdoor access to the server, according to the DOJ statement.

The backdoor program collected more than 3,300 messages distributed by DTRA staff. In addition, the hacker found a way to discover at least 19 user names and passwords of the computer accounts of DTRA employees -- 10 of which resided on military computers, the DOJ said.

The hacker, whose identity wasn't released, also gained access to 13 NASA computers at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. He retrieved and downloaded proprietary software from NASA worth around $1.7 million. NASA uses the software to support the International Space Station's physical environment. Computer systems at NASA were forcibly put out of business for 21 days in July of 1999 to deal with the security breaches, the Justice Department said.

"Breaking into someone else's property, whether it is a robbery or a computer intrusion, is a serious crime," U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno said. "This case, which marks the first time a juvenile hacker will serve time in a detention facility, shows that we take computer intrusion seriously and are working with our law enforcement partners to aggressively fight this problem."

The hacker will also write letters of apology to the Defense Department and NASA as part of his punishment. He agreed to the public disclosure of all information surrounding the case.

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