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British national indicted in military hacking case

U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty
U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty

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Indictment: U.S. v. Gary McKinnon  (FindLaw, PDF)external link

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- A British hacker managed to obtain "sensitive" but not classified information from computers at a variety of U.S. military installations before being caught, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

U.S. officials will seek to extradite Gary McKinnon, 36, from London to face trial on the charges, said Paul McNulty, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. McKinnon has been in British custody during the investigation but was free Tuesday, McNulty said.

"Mr. McKinnon is charged with the biggest military computer hack of all time," McNulty said. "It's probably one of the biggest hacks ever detected."

McKinnon, an unemployed computer system administrator, is accused of breaking into military, NASA and civilian networks and accessing 98 computers at the Pentagon; Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Meade, Maryland; the Earle Naval Weapons Station in Colt's Neck, New Jersey; and the Johnson Space Center in Houston, among others.

"The success of this investigation serves as a warning to all hackers: You are not invisible. You cannot act anonymously on the Internet," he said. "If you hack us, we will find you and we will prosecute you and we will send you to prison."

The intrusions occurred during a yearlong period beginning in March 2001, McNulty said. In one case, he crashed computers belonging to the Military District of Washington.

McNulty estimated the cost of tracking and correcting the problems at about $1 million. McKinnon is believed to have acted alone, with no known connection to any terrorist organization, McNulty said.

The seven-count Virginia indictment alleges that McKinnon hacked into 92 computer systems belonging to the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Department of Defense, and NASA, and six computer systems belonging to private companies.

Another indictment in New Jersey accuses McKinnon of crashing a network of 300 computers at the Earle Naval Weapons Station to be shut down for a week. It took a month to fully repair the damage, U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie said.

The Earle Naval Station is a command of the U.S. Navy responsible for replenishing munitions and supplies for the Atlantic fleet.

"This was a grave intrusion into a vital military computer system at a time when we, as a nation, had to summon all of our defenses against further attack," Christie said in a written statement.

McKinnon faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine for the New Jersey charges.

-- CNN Producer Phil Hirschkorn contributed to this report.

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