Teen Hacker Cleared By Jury – Case Highlights Difficulties For Computer Crime Prosecutors Says Sophos

Teenage hacker Aaron Caffrey, 19, has today walked free from court after being cleared by jury of trying to bring down one of North America’s biggest ports in September 2001 by hacking into its computer systems.

Caffrey, who has admitted being a member of a group called Allied Haxor Elite and hacking into computers for friends to test their security – but only with their permission, claimed that unidentified hackers broke into his computer and launched the attack against the port of Houston. The jury accepted Caffrey’s story, even though prosecution expert witnesses could find no evidence that his computer had ever been broken into.

“Clearly the authorities are facing a fundamental problem when attempting to prosecute suspected computer criminals,” said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos. “The Caffrey case suggests that even if no evidence of a computer break-in is unearthed on a suspect’s PC they might still be able to successfully claim that they were not responsible for what their computer does, or what is found on its hard drive. The ‘Trojan’ defence has been successfully used in the UK courts before. In July, a man was cleared of possessing child porn when a number of Trojan horses were discovered on his computer.”

The prosecution had alleged that Caffrey had hacked into the port’s computer servers in an attempt to attack a female chatroom user called Bokkie, who had made anti-USA comments online. Caffrey was said to have fallen in love with an American girl called Jessica. He had never met Jessica, but conducted a year-long internet relationship with her. Transcripts of steamy transatlantic exchanges between the couple were read out in court. Caffrey’s computer was even named after Jessica, and the malicious attack script which was launched against the port included a dedication to her.

Caffrey’s barrister, Iain Ross said: “He wishes to say that this ordeal has been a dark cloud hanging over him for the last two years. He had always insisted he was not guilty and that he was a victim of a criminal act rather than being a criminal himself.”

“Caffrey has said that he would like to seek out a future career in computer security,” continued Cluley. “However, according to his own story he left his computer wide open for attack, infiltration and exploitation by unknown hackers who attempted to frame him. Although he may have served his career prospects well by not receiving a criminal record today – he has harmed them by claiming that he was not following some of the most basic steps of computer security.”

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