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Palin webmail 'hack' trial delayed

Time-out for computer forensics

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The trial of the student accused of breaking into the email account of Sarah Palin in the run-up to the US presidential election has been pushed back to next May.

David Kernell, 20, was originally due to face trial on December 16, but the case is now scheduled for 19 May. Kernell, the son of Tennessee Democrat legislator Mike Kernell, faces a single count of hacking into the former Republican vice presidential candidate's webmail account in September.

The extra time has been allowed in order to carry out computer forensics analysis relevant to the case.

Palin's webmail account was compromised by taking advantage of the password reset feature. A light spot of Goggling revealed the probable answers to Palin's secret question, allowing the account to be accessed, according to posts on the 4Chan discussion board discussing the hack.

These posts (made using the pseudonym of Rubico) were linked back to Kernell's email address. Screenshots taken during the course of the attack and posted online showed that the Ctunnel.com web proxy service was used during the attack. Since the full URL was included with these screenshots it might be possible to obtain the IP address of the computer that accessed the account from Ctunnel's logs.

Kernell's attorney, Wade Davies, unsuccessfully argued last month that his client ought to be charged with a misdemeanor rather than a felony. On a felony charge, Kernell faces up to five years behind bars and a fine of $250,000. Kernell has entered a not-guilty plea.

More successfully, Davies argued that use of the term hacking or hacker was inappropriate in the context of Kernell's alleged misdeeds because the term implied the use of "sophisticated means or specialized computer skills".

The University of Tennessee student remains free on bail with restriction that prohibit his use of a computer except for the purposes of internet email and college coursework. ®

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