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Grand jury fails to level charges in Palin hack case

Investigation continues

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

A Tennessee grand jury considering the Sarah Palin webmail hacking case completed its meeting on Tuesday without returning charges against the key suspect in the case, the student son of a state politician. Prosecutors said an investigation into the case remains ongoing.

Law enforcement officials carried out a search on an appartment shared by David Kernell, 20, a University of Tennessee student, in the early hours of Sunday morning. The authorities are investigating the compromising of a Yahoo! webmail account, maintained by the Republican vice presidential candidate, last week.

Posts on the 4Chan discussion board, using the pseudonym of Rubico, admitting responsibility for the Palin hack and explaining how it was carried out by abusing Yahoo's password recovery feature, were linked back to Kernell's email address. His father, state democrat rep Mike Kernell, admitted his son was a target in the investigation.

Little of political interest was exposed by the attack on Palin's gov.palin@yahoo.com webmail account, which was closed down shortly after the attack.

Screenshots made during the attack and posted onto the net revealed that the Ctunnel.com web proxy service was used in the attack. Because the full URL was included in these screenshots it's more likely that investigators will be able to trace back the IP address of the computer involved in the hack by going through Ctunnel's logs.

The three young people who share a flat with Kernell were each served with a summons over the weekend and testified behind closed doors at the Chattanooga grand jury hearing on Tuesday.

There are multiple potential sources of evidence in the case. It could be that important elements, in particular results of a forensic examination of any computer equipment seized on the raid on Kernell's flat, aren't ready yet.

Questions of law might also be in play. The perpetrator of the attack snooped on emails that had already been opened. This might hamper prosecution under the Stored Communications Act, based on the DoJ's stance in an earlier email privacy case, the Electronic Frontier Foundation reports.

Justice Department officials declined to comment on the grand jury's deliberations but told AP that the "government’s inquiry into this matter is ongoing". ®

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