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US Navy hacker avoids Romanian jail

Sharp contrast with McKinnon extradition saga

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A Romanian hacker who broke into systems run by the US Navy, NASA and the Department of Energy has avoided a custodial sentence in a trial at home but may still face extradition to the US.

Victor Faur, 28, was convicted of hacking into US government systems between November 2005 and September 2006. He received a 16-month suspended prison sentence along with a heavy fine of $238,000 at a sentencing hearing on Monday.

During the trial, which lasted 10 months, Faur attempted to argue he was doing the US military a favour by exposing flaws in vulnerable systems, AP reports.

His lawyer, Sorin Bretotianu, said that Faur is considering an appeal against the Romanian charges, which could have led to a maximum of 12 years behind bars.

US prosecutors alleged that Faur was the leader of a hacking crew called the WhiteHat Team, who reportedly competed with each other to break into US government systems. Faur was indicted in the US on nine counts of hacking and one of conspiracy in 2006. At the time US authorities said they would seek the extradition of Faur to the US after the completion of a trial in his native Romania.

The case contrasts with that of accused British hacker Gary McKinnon. Faur, like McKinnon, broke into US government systems, though McKinnon admitted wrongdoing whereas Faur has strenuously contested the charges against him.

US authorities allowed Faur to be tried in his native Romania, while McKinnon received no such latitude.

McKinnon was first arrested by officers from the former National Hi-Tech Crime Unit in 2002. UK charges were never filed and the case lay dormant for three years until US authorities started extradition proceedings in 2005, soon after a the UK passed a controversial one-way extradition treaty with the US.

Supporters of McKinnon have campaigned vigorously to get a UK trial for McKinnon ever since, without success. It's tempting to think previous prosecution failures to secure a conviction of suspects accused of hacking US systems in UK courts (examples here and here) have influenced the US government's handling of the McKinnon case. It's either that or the desire to make an example of McKinnon.

If nothing else the Faur case provides evidence that US military systems were open to exploit long after the security theatre that accompanied McKinnon's initial 2002 arrest, during which US prosecutors described his actions as the "biggest military hack of all time". ®

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