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A sentencing date has been set for a UK teenager who admits breaking into the network of a US high-energy physics research lab.

Joseph McElroy, 19, from Woodford Green in East London, is due to be sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on February 2 for hacking into the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in June 2002.

McElroy pleaded guilty to hacking into 17 computers at the Illinois laboratory, offences under the UK's Computer Misuse Act, at a hearing at Bow Street Magistrates' Court last October.

The teenager's actions had serious consequences, even though his objective was only to use the lab's network to download films and music from the Net. The lab's computer systems had to be shut down for three days once the intrusion, which triggered a full-scale alert, was discovered. The Fermi Lab is run by the US Department of Energy.

It was quickly established that classified systems were not accessed, but the authorities pressed ahead with a prosecution.

US investigators tracked the intrusion to the UK before passing the case over to Scotland Yard's Computer Crime Unit; it in turn tracked McElroy to his home in east London.

The US government is seeking approximately £21,000 ($37,000) compensation from McElroy for the damage and disruption he caused. This penalty is higher than magistrates can impose, hence the decision to refer the case to Southwark Crown Court during a December 18 hearing at Bow Street Magistrates' Court.

McElroy, now a student at Exeter University, is free on bail pending sentencing. ®

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Sentencing postponed in nuclear lab hack case
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The US DoE's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois. The atom-smashing lab at the eye of the storm.

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