Lawyers claim Palin hack suspect's PC had spyware
Groundwork laid for possible Big Wooden Horse defence
Lawyers for Sarah Palin webmail hack suspect David Kernell claim his PC was infected with spyware.
The contention may be used at trial to support arguments that the 21-year-old student son of a Tennessee Democrat politician was not personally responsible for the hack on a Yahoo! account maintained by the former Alaskan governor, which was traced back to an IP address used by Kernell.
The content of emails and family photos were uploaded onto 4Chan during last year's presidential election campaign. The webmail account was compromised after hackers reset Palin's password using biographical info that was far from hard to figure out from publicly available information.
Palin described the incident as hugely disruptive to the Republican presidential campaign in her recently published book.
Lawyers acting for Kernell claim his Acer laptop was infected with unspecified malware in a motion filed on 30 November. However, the malware involved has been isolated and subjected to scrutiny, Security Blanket reports.
The so-called Trojan defence was successfully used by accused hacker Aaron Caffrey, an Asperger's sufferer charged with using systems run by the Port of Houston to run a DDoS attack, crashing servers in Texas in the process. Caffery was cleared after a jury found him not guilty of hacking offences at the end of a week-long trial back in 2003, despite the fact that expert witnesses found no evidence of Trojan infection on his PC.
In other cases, suspected paedophiles have been cleared by computer forensics after Trojans capable of downloading illicit images were found on their PCs.
It's unclear to what extent Kernell's lawyers will use the "hackers used my PC as a proxy" patsy defence when his trial, scheduled to begin on 20 April next year, gets underway. ®
"I accidentally 93MB of Sarah Palin rar files."
Not a get-out-of jail card
My very lucrative sideline is as an expert witness in computers and communications. I work mostly in criminal cases.
The first point is that almost all computer systems used by consumers of child porn have malware - usually more than one type. This is because their cruising habits expose them to some pretty dodgy sites. The same applies to pedophiles who try and groom under-age kids. Drug dealers and general crooks tend to be less exposed.
The second point is that the technical evidence and presence of malware almost never has a bearing on the outcome. Juries are very eager to discount the presence of malware and instead rely on the human factors. Usually the video of the initial search and the half-assed excuses and minor admissions during interview are enough to convict.
Another common excuse is that 'someone else used my computer'. This is difficult to prove either way. However juries generally think "this was his computer so he must have done it."
You need very powerful evidence that malware was actively being used. For instance an intercept at the ISP showing someone in Russia controlling the machine. Since the defendant won't have this record and the authorities don't routinely collect evidence that may exonerate the accused, this almost never occurs.
What is more interesting is unprotected wireless access points. If the access point is unprotected and all that is discovered is use of the IP connected to the access point then any good lawyer can get a not guilty verdict.
...that under USA-ian law it was illegal to use a service like Yahoo! for governmental business. Will Palin be getting charged (is this is indeed the case)?
If I am correct and Palin is not charged, it's nice to see that the UK is not the only place where politicians are above the law.