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Second hacker encounter for Los Alamos

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A worker at a top secret US nuclear weapons research facility has been arrested on charges of computer hacking and witness interference.

According to a report by Reuters, all the charges against Jerome Heckenkamp relate to offences committed before the suspect started working at the sensitive facility in Los Alamos, New Mexico, in June last year.

The news agency quotes unnamed sources at Los Alamos who state there is no evidence that "any sensitive nuclear secrets had been compromised". After a tip off from the FBI that charges were in the pipeline the source said that the Lab made sure Heckenkamp had no access, either electronically or otherwise, to sensitive material.

The 21 year-old was arrested on an indictment that charges he was involved in a spate of hacking attacks between February and November 1999 whilst a student at the University of Wisconsin. He is charged with computer intrusions and the interception of electronic communications, as well as offences relating to alleged attempts to persuade a witness to withhold testimony about his alleged offences.

Operating under the name "MagicFX" and "Magic", Heckenkamp is suspected of defacing eBay.com and breaking into the computer systems of Exodus Communications, Juniper Networks and Lycos.

Heckenkamp, who faces a 16-count charge, has been detained in federal custody pending further hearings.

Earlier this week leaked documents revealed that a security patrolman is believed to have hacked his way into computer networks at the Bradwell nuclear reactor in Essex, raising the chilling spectre of nuclear related cyber-terrorism.

Both BNFL in the UK and Los Alamos have pledged to tighten security procedures, particularly related to the vetting of employees. Tighter procedures are certainly needed, particularly in at Los Alamos, which has previous cause to regret its hiring policies.

In December 1999 Los Alamos lab physicist Wen Ho Lee was arrested on charges of downloading nuclear weapons designs and the temporary disappearance of two computer hard drives containing nuclear secrets. Originally suspected at being a spy, Lee eventually pleaded guilty to a felony charge relating to the downloading of nuclear weapons secrets. ®

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