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Son of state lawmaker charged with Palin email hack

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Internet Security Threat Report 2014

The son of a Democratic Tennessee state lawmaker pleaded not guilty on Wednesday after being indicted for breaking into the email account of US vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

David C. Kernell, 20, of Knoxville, entered the plea in federal court in Knoxville. He was released without posting bond, but the court forbid the economics student at the University of Tennessee from using the internet except to check email and do class work. He was led into court wearing handcuffs and shackles on his ankles, the Associated Press reported.

Trial is set for December 16. Kernell faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He turned himself in to law enforcement authorities.

The son of Tennessee Representative Mike Kernell, David Kernell was indicted Tuesday by a federal grand jury in Knoxville for intentionally accessing Palin's Yahoo email account without authorization. Last month, the Alaska governor came under scrutiny for using private email accounts to conduct official state business. If true, the allegations could amount to violations of open government laws requiring communications be carried out on state-issued accounts.

Representative Kernell has said he had nothing to do with the incident.

According to the three-page indictment, David Kernell gained access to gov.palin@yahoo.com on September 16 by exploiting weaknesses in Yahoo's password reset feature. He then read the contents, made screenshots of the email directory, individual messages, and other personal information, and posted selected information to the 4chan website.

The account - right down to Kernell's decision to reset the password to "popcorn" - largely matches a narrative left on 4chan by a user calling himself Rubico. Bloggers quickly tracked the user to an email address belonging to David Kernell. At least one other person used the reset features to access Palin's account, according to the indictment.

After posting the password on 4chan and realizing investigators were probably closing in on him, David Kernell "removed, altered, concealed, and covered up files on his laptop computer," the indictment alleges.

Federal investigators had at least one other lucky break in the case. Screenshots posted to Wikileaks contained a whole string of random-looking characters generated by the proxy service used by the person accessing Palin's account. That was enough for Ctunnel.com owner Gabriel Ramuglia to identify the perpetrator. Within two days of the intrusion, FBI officials were on the case. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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