This week in Dallas a summit is being held that isn’t getting a lot of attention, but it is one that could be very important for anyone who uses a computer or goes on the Internet. This is the Worldwide Cybersecurity Summit, which was organized by the EastWest Institute think tank.
More than 400 government officials and industry experts from more than 30 countries are expected to attend. But this is a small number when you contrast it to the thousands of attendees who regularly make their way to pro-hacker events such as Black Hat and DefCon in Las Vegas. So does this mean that the good guys are winning?
First, it doesn’t. Not everyone attending DefCon is looking to be the next “Case” from the cyberpunk thriller Neuormancer, or even the next real-world Kevin Mitnick – who at the time of his arrest was the most-wanted computer criminal in the United States. The other thing is that a message might finally be sent about hacking. And it will surely be hotly debated.
This of course is the case regarding David Kernell, the 22-year-old son of a Democratic Tennessee state senator. He was convicted last week on one felony charge and one misdemeanor charge for his hacking into the personal Yahoo mail account of then Vice President hopeful Sarah Palin (and at the time current governor of Alaska) during the 2008 presidential campaign. According to the charges, Kernell had accessed Palin’s account using a password reset function. He was able to piece together information from her biographical information that was publicly available, changed the password and further posted images of her personal e-mail and pictures from her account to a public forum.
Kernell was convicted of “felony destruction of records to hamper a federal investigation and of a misdemeanor charge that he unlawfully accessed a protected computer.” He was also acquitted of federal wire fraud charges. A mistrial was declared for the federal identity theft charge, as the jury was deadlocked. However, for the two convictions he now faces a maximum of 21 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
Does the crime fit the charge? Online there have been comments that a young man’s life could be ruined as a result, and that Palin was stupid for making it so easy. Regardless of what one might think of Palin, the fact is she was the victim, and Kernell shouldn’t get off easy. He was an adult, and he should have known what he was doing was wrong. Thus, this could become a political issue because Palin is a controversial character.
This should also serve again as a warning to business users to keep their data secure. This means avoid easy to remember passwords, keep an eye on your mobile devices whilst traveling and be diligent while paying the bills, especially if you had numerous automatic payments on your credit cards. The fact is that there remain a lot of bad people out there who would like to steal your information. Sometimes it can be for the sheer thrill of it – as has been argued in the defense of old-school hackers such as Mitnick – or those who have political motivations. But far too often the bad guys are looking to steal from you or your business.