A 20-year-old Tennessee man has been indicted for hacking into an email account of US vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, according to court records.
David C. Kernell was indicted on Tuesday on a single charge of accessing a protected computer by a grand jury in US District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee in Knoxville. The indictment, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, was unsealed Wednesday, the US Department of Justice said.
Kernell, from Knoxville, turned himself into law enforcement authorities and is scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday. He is the son of Mike Kernell, a Democratic state representative from Memphis.
The three-page indictment alleges that Kernell gained access to a Yahoo email account used by Palin, the Republican governor of Alaska, on about September 16. Palin was named Senator John McCain's vice-presidential running mate in August.
The next day, the Wikileaks.org published several screen shots of Yahoo email messages, e-mail addresses of Palin family members and associates, and other data that hackers claimed to have obtained from Palin's private account.
A hacking group known as Anonymous claimed to have gained access to Palin's [email protected] account and sent the information to Wikileaks, which acts as an anonymous clearinghouse for leaked documents.
"Governor Palin has come under criticism for using private email accounts to conduct government business and in the process avoid transparency laws," Wikileaks wrote in a note accompanying the material. "The list of correspondence, together with the account name, appears to re-enforce the criticism."
Bloggers had fingered Kernell as a suspect after linking him to the online name "rubico," used by the hacker who claimed to have accessed Palin's Yahoo account. Rubico claimed to have accessed the account by using Yahoo's password reset feature and answering security questions with publicly available information, and the indictment supports that claim. He guessed correctly that Palin had met her husband at Wasilla High.
The indictment alleges that Kernell posted screenshots of Palin's email messages, email addresses of her family members, pictures of her family and at least one mobile phone number to the 4chan.org website. It's unclear in the indictment how the information came to Wikileaks from 4chan.org, an image-based bulletin board.
Another person also reset the account's password and was able to access Palin's email account, the indictment said.