Los Alamos Employee Denies Hacking

ByHeather Clark

A L B U Q U E R Q U E, N.M., Jan. 12, 2001 -- Jerome Heckenkamp — a whiz kid whobegan teaching himself algebra when he was 8 and started college by14 — denies he had hacked into six company Web sites.

The 21-year-old computer network engineer at Los Alamos NationalLaboratory who formerly attended the University of Wisconsin saidhe was innocent after U.S. Magistrate Richard Puglisi ordered himto appear Jan. 18 at a San Jose court, and the next day in SanDiego to face computer-tampering charges.

"They're just using me as a scapegoat," he told reportersafter Thursday's hearing.

Heckenkamp — allegedly using the nicknames of "Magic" or"MagicFX" — is accused of targeting the companies, including eBayInc. and E-Trade Group, in 1999, before he was hired at Los Alamoslast June.

No ‘Sensitive’ Information

Heckenkamp said an unknown person broke into the companies'computers by working through his computer while he was a student atthe University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"There's nothing associated with my name in any of thosecomputer files," he said.

By the time he left the university and applied at Los Alamos,FBI agents had seized his computer and were investigating the case.

But he said they told him someone else had used his computer todo the hacking. He said he didn't tell the lab because he thoughtthe matter was behind him.

Lab officials said as a probationary employee, Heckenkamp neverhad any security clearances.

"He had no access, repeat no access, to any sensitiveinformation," a lab official said Thursday, speaking on conditionthat his name not be used. The University of California operatesthe lab for the U.S. Department of Energy.

Los Alamos officials have not yet commented publicly on thecase.

Heckenkamp, who also lectures on computer programming at theUniversity of New Mexico, said he is still formally a lab employee,but he was not allowed to work there.

Asked about Heckenkamp's job status, the lab official said hecouldn't comment on whether he was still employed there, "but alladministrative actions at our disposal have been taken on thismatter.

Born in Australia

Heckenkamp was born in New South Wales, Australia, and movedwith his family to Pewaukee, Wis., when he was 3½ years old.

He was initially taught at home by his parents, Tom and TracieHeckenkamp, until he was admitted to Carroll College in Waukeshaand the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha when he was 14.

He claimed he obtained a master's in computer science fromUW-Madison in May 1999, but school records show he had not receivedthe advanced degree.

Heckenkamp faces 85 years in prison and $4 million in fines, butprosecutors said sentencing guidelines could reduce those.

EBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove said a hacker posted a statementon eBay's home page in March 1999, but he would not comment onwhether that person was Heckenkamp.

ETrade spokeswoman Judy Balint said her company learned in March1999 that it was being targeted by a hacker, but no one had brokeninto its sites following the warning.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., a member of the Senate Energy andNatural Resources Committee, said Heckenkamp's arrest shows thelab's security system works.

"He had the right kind of brain, but he didn't have the rightkind of behavior," Domenici said.

"I don't think it in any way hurts Los Alamos," he added.

Heckenkamp's father, of Pewaukee, Wis., told the MilwaukeeJournal Sentinel his son told him he had worked in highlysensitive areas at the lab.