posted on Feb, 5 2004 @ 05:58 PM
A British teenager has narrowly escaped jail after sparking a nuclear panic by hacking into a top secret United States weapons laboratory.
Joseph McElroy, 18, who on Monday was ordered to serve a 200-hour community punishment order, bypassed the facility's electronic security systems
with sophisticated software he had developed and nicknamed Deathserv.
McElroy wanted to use the advanced network's power to download and store films and music from the internet.
London's Southwark Crown Court heard that in June 2002, he used a special password to protect his collection and cover up his "parasitic" invasion.
But so many of his fellow hackers also accessed the system at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois that it began to slow down.
Technicians discovered the breach and "pressed the panic button". Fearing a terrorist attack, the computer was closed down for three days and the US
Department of Energy sounded a full-scale alert.
Officers at Scotland Yard's computer crimes unit were contacted and quickly traced the then-16-year-old student to his east London home.
McElroy, now a first-year engineering undergraduate, pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorised modification of the contents of a computer.
Judge Andrew Goymer told him he ought to "think yourself lucky" he was not going to jail. "Computers are an important feature of life in the 21st
century. Government, industry and commerce, as well as a whole variety of other institutions, depend upon the integrity and reliability of their
computers in order their proper and legitimate activities can be carried on."