Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Close Encounter of the Worst Kind

by Charles Pooter

As you've probably already read, Gary McKinnon the Scottish computer cracker (a "hacker" is a computer programmer) recently lost his fight in the UK High Court against the US Department of Justice's vindictive campaign to have him extradited.

What I find particularly chilling about Gary's case and his pending encounter with the orange jumpsuits and degradation of the US justice system, is how this could so easily have been me or any number of people that I know. This article in the Scotsman gives some background on Gary and his life. His youthful obsession with science fiction and UFOs, his computer skills and general nerdishness, his fondness for ganja: this describes many of the people I have known and liked. For some, these things are a phase, for others the negative parts end up ruining their lives, but for most they keep the non-destructive elements and fit them into a normal life.

So what did Gary's cracking consist of? As this BBC article describes, In 2001 and 2002 Gary was cracking into US military computers running Microsoft Windows. This was a while before Windows had a firewall installed and activated by default and many people forgot to set user names and passwords on windows shares. In other words Gary's cracking consisted of typing Windows UNC paths and then typing Administrator as the username and leaving the password blank. For example, he would type \\\C$ and press Enter. That and some other very basic techniques are what Gary's "cracking" amounted to. If you clicked that UNC path link from a Windows PC and it was a valid IP address (it isn't) you too would be attempting to crack a computer. For this, the DOJ wants to jail Gary for life in a prison which houses rapists and murderers.


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