Ehud Tenebaum, the Israeli hacker famous as "The Analyzer," has pleaded guilty in Israel to the 1998 attacks on unclassified US Defence Department systems that once touched off alarms at the highest levels of government.
In an appearance late last month before the Magistrate's Court in Kfar Sava, a suburb east of Tel Aviv, the 21-year-old hacker admitted to cracking US and Israeli computers, and plead guilty to conspiracy, wrongful infiltration of computerized material, disruption of computer use and destroying evidence.
Sentencing is set for 13 March, when prosecutors hope to lock up the hacker for at least six months -- the minimum sentence that would make him ineligible for house arrest. "We don't want him to get that privilege, we think that his offences are too serious for that," said Assistant Central District Attorney Or Mamon in a telephone interview.
Tenebaum, now chief technology officer at computer security consultancy 2XS, declined to comment on the plea, except to say that he's hoping to receive probation.
The Tenebaum case began in February, 1998, when dozens of Pentagon systems were suffering what then-US Deputy Defence Secretary John Hamre called "the most organized and systematic attack to date" on US military systems.
Though the attacks exploited a well-known vulnerability in the Solaris operating system for which a patch had been available for months, they came at a time of heightened tension in the Persian Gulf. Hamre and other top officials became convinced that they were witnessing a sophisticated, state-sponsored Iraqi effort to disrupt troop deployment in the Middle East.
A joint task force was hastily assembled among agents of the FBI, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, NASA, the US Department of Justice, the Defence Information Systems Agency, the NSA, and the CIA. The investigation, code-named "Solar Sunrise," eventually snared two California teenagers and Tenebaum.
"This arrest should send a message to would-be computer hackers all over the world that the United States will treat computer intrusions as serious crimes," said attorney general Janet Reno at the time. "We will work around the world and in the depths of cyberspace to investigate and prosecute those who attack computer networks."
Today, defence officials still point to Solar Sunrise as illustrative of the difficulty of separating recreational hack attacks from the state-sponsored cyber assaults they're still certain loom on the horizon. Law enforcement, meanwhile, holds the investigation up as a textbook example of interagency cyber-crime cooperation; the FBI produced an 18-minute training video about the case titled "Solar Sunrise: Dawn of a New Threat," available for $12.28.
The California teens received probation, and, after a brief stint in the military, Tenebaum was indicted under Israeli computer crime laws in February 1999. The case dragged on in the courts until last month's plea agreement. "He already admitted everything to the police," said Mamon. "So the plea bargain didn't get him much."
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