November 5, 1998 5:40 PM PST

Teen hackers sentenced

Two California teenagers convicted of breaking into military and other government computers last February were sentenced to probation and community service this week, according to the U.S. attorney's office.

The teenagers were arrested in their homes last February after breaking into computers at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, the Air Force, and other government and university institutions.

Neither defendant was identified by the court, since both are juveniles. Their court hearing on Wednesday was kept closed to the public.

Both teens could have been sentenced to prison until they are 21 years old, according to the U.S. attorney's office. But the actual sentences proved much more lenient.

Each must attend classes until the end of high school, perform 100 hours of community service, and stay away from modem-equipped computers unless supervised by teachers or employers. One of the teens must pay a fine of $4,330, while the other will be responsible for $1,195 in restitution costs.

Additionally, neither teen can be employed in a computer-related job during the course of the three-year probation.

The February attacks on government computers prompted waves of concern among policy makers. Deputy Defense secretary John Hamre told reporters that the action had been "the most organized and systematic attack the Pentagon has seen to date."

The arrests were ordered after an investigation by the FBI, the Defense Department, and NASA. Officials said the teens had not penetrated any classified systems, but nevertheless could have caused significant damage to domain name servers and other critical communications systems.

The teens had first breached computers at a Northern California ISP, and had jumped from there into systems at the University of California at Berkeley, military and scientific servers, and even computers in Mexico. In many of these systems, they planted "sniffers," or software that would record users' passwords.

According to the U.S. attorney's statement, the pair gave themselves "root-level" access to many of the systems they penetrated, allowing them the same level of control as the network administrators. They also programmed "back doors" into many of the systems, allowing them to return to the computers at a later date.

The pair pleaded guilty to charges of juvenile delinquency on July 29.

 

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