Teen Hacker Facing Jail Time and Fine

W A SH I N G T O N, Nov. 22, 2001 -- At age 19, hacker Eric Burns has already wandered the underpinnings of the Web where few had gone before, including an illicit visit inside computers at the White House in May.

“I didn’t really think it was too much of a big deal,” said Burns—hacker name Zyklon—who admitted responsibility for some of the most sensational attacks on corporate and government Internet sites.

He pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., to a single felony count of intentionally hacking into one computer, but admitted involvement in the spate of electronic assaults.

Now Burns is facing 15 months in federal prison and $36,240 in restitution. And under a judge’s orders last week, he won’t be allowed to touch a computer for three years after his release.

Burns was initially indicted May 13 on charges of breaking into computers for the U.S. Information Agency and two businesses. That was four days after the White House Internet site—at www.whitehouse.gov—was electronically assaulted.

Initially, Burns said he wasn’t directly involved in that White House attack in which the altered site included the phrase, “following peeps get some shouts”—hacker slang for “hello”—and listed a dozen names, including Zyklon.

Zyklon is the name of a poison gas used by Nazis against Jews.

Spread the Word About His Attack

But federal prosecutors said Burns boasted of the White House attack online even before it happened, and Burns admitted at his sentencing Friday he was among three people who altered the site briefly to show a black Web page with the names of hacker organizations, along with messages, “Your box was own3d,” and, “Stop all the war.”

He said Monday in a telephone interview from his home in Shorewood, Wash., that he will refuse to identify his two partners to the Secret Service, partly because he believes the criminal penalties for hackers are too steep. His punishment didn’t fit his crime, he insisted.

“I’d rather not have what happened to me happen to anyone else,” Burns said. “I don’t really agree with the kind of sentencing range there is for the crime.”

The seriousness of the trouble facing Burns didn’t sink in, he admitted, even after FBI agents raided his home and took his computer.

“I just gave them a confession,” Burns said. “I didn’t think it was too big a deal.”

But It Was a Big Deal

Prosecutors indicated otherwise.

U.S. Attorney Helen Fahey said Burns attacked computers on the Internet controlling Web sites for NATO, a U.S. embassy and consulates and even Vice President Al Gore. The USIA Web site was shut down for eight days after Burns’ attack.

All told, the attacks cost the government and businesses more than $40,000, prosecutors said.

When the White House site was vandalized, experts “had to shut down the Web server, disconnect both the public and private computer networks from the Internet for two days and reconfigure the computer system,” Fahey said in a statement.

Burns expects to report to federal prison in four to six weeks, which he hopes will let him spend Thanksgiving and the holidays with his family. With time off for good behavior, his lawyer told him he might spend as few as 13 months behind bars.

Although his sentence says he won’t be allowed to use a computer during three years of supervised probation when he’s released, he’s already planning to ask his probation officer whether he’ll be allowed to use one for work.

“I really don’t know” how the arrest and time in prison will affect his future, Burns said. “Hopefully, it won’t impact it too bad.”