Work this one out. UK-based Hacker, Gary McKinnon, loses House of Lords final appeal against extradition by US authorities who want him to face charges of disrupting US military systems in 2001. Security vendors applaud that an e-criminal could find himself behind bars. And UK journalists? Most of them think the case stinks.
But what does the McKinnon case really smell of it’s that fishy? Here’s what a selection of security vendors have to say:
“The virtual nature of cyber-crime can mean that it does not evoke the same emotions as violent offences, however it can still cause real pain to those affected. Today’s ruling marks a change in attitudes towards cyber crime and we can expect to see authorities in the future treating such incidents as seriously as any other major crime,” said McAfee.
“McKinnon has gained the support of many other hackers and indeed ordinary people, and this decision will doubtless come as a shock after these years of appeals. But, any form of hacking is illegal and should be punished as such, and hacking into US government networks is bound to come with harsh repercussions - anyone thinking about engaging in these types of activities in the future should think twice," said Graham Cluley of Sophos.
Nobody should rush to excuse McKinnon’s foolishness (even those who believe his ridiculous story about searching for a UFO cover-up), but we’ve said it before and will say it again – McKinnon is being made an example of, not because he’s remotely the most egregious hacker ever to open ports on US military systems (Chinese government-backed hackers do that on most days), but simply because they know who he is and where he is.
He is being made an example of, hung out as a sort of warning, rather as medieval courts would display the heads of criminals on city gates to act as a deterrent.
The problem with this reasoning, and the off-key note in the triumphant chorus of the security professionals who think he deserves jail time, is that most of the threat to US military systems comes not from inspired amateurs such as McKinnon, but the hardcore professionals working for foreign governments. If he’s an example to others, he’s not much of an example at all.
Punish him by all means – he admits his crimes after all - but let’s not pretend that a single US military server is one iota safer with McKinnon behind bars.