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Hacking Sarah Palin

The college student who broke into Palin's email faces sentencing

2 min read
Hacking Sarah Palin

It’s not easy being a politician’s son. Just ask David Kernell.  

The 22-year-old grew up as the golden-haired son of a golden boy of Tennessee politics: longtime Democrat legislator, Mike Kernell, chairman of Tennessee's House Government Operations Committee.

In the fall of 2008, his father was embroiled in a fight for reelection against a formidable opponent:  Tim Cook, a Homeland Security Special Agent and member of the FBI Gang Task Force.  David watched the battle from the sidelines, while he attended the University of Tennessee, an undeclared major living off campus with friends.  In the wee hours of Sunday September 21, however, David was having a party with friends when a team of FBI agents showed up.  The party-goers assumed there had been a noise violation, as the agents spent the next couple hours photographing the people and place.   But one kid wasn’t there to see the action unfold – David Kernell had slipped out the back door. 

On March 10, 2009, Kernell had nowhere to run as he stood in a US district court in Knoxville.  That day, the Feds filed felony charges against him for the most notorious cybercrime in years:   hacking into Sarah Palin’s email at the height of the presidential race.  Kernell was allegedly the hacker known as Rubico, who, posted a long explanation of how he busted into Palin’s Yahoo mail account.

"I really wanted to get something incriminating which I was sure there would be," he blogged.  The craziest thing of all was how easy it was for him to break in.  “It took seriously 45 mins on wikipedia and google to find the info,” he wrote.  But after successfully changing her password to Popcorn, the reality hit him hard. "It finally set in,” he continued, “THIS internet was serious business, yes I was behind a proxy, only one, if this shit ever got to the FBI I was fucked, I panicked, i still wanted the stuff out there but I didn't know how to rapid [share] all that stuff, so I posted the pass…and then promptly deleted everything, and unplugged my internet and just sat there in a comatose state."

in April, Kernell was convicted of obstructing justice and unauthorized access to a computer. He faces sentencing in October.  Though the case has not been found to be politically motivated, politicians and pundits have seized the story as just that.  "The fact that a Democratic activist - and possibly an Obama supporter - could go to these lengths is deeply disturbing and criminal," said Republican National Committee spokesman Danny Diaz.

Earlier this year, hackers broke into the Facebook page of UK Conservative Bill Wiggin, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, and used it to invite his “friends” to view free webcam sex shows.  Not long before that, a candidate in Edinburgh named Cammy Day claimed hackers had hijacked his email address to post hateful comments about his opponent online. "In the last two months I have had to change my password twice to my Hotmail account, so someone is obviously trying to hack into my account,” he lamented, “I would suggest it is someone in the other parties who is trying to cause mischief."

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How the FCC Settles Radio-Spectrum Turf Wars

Remember the 5G-airport controversy? Here’s how such disputes play out

11 min read
This photo shows a man in the basket of a cherry picker working on an antenna as an airliner passes overhead.

The airline and cellular-phone industries have been at loggerheads over the possibility that 5G transmissions from antennas such as this one, located at Los Angeles International Airport, could interfere with the radar altimeters used in aircraft.

Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

You’ve no doubt seen the scary headlines: Will 5G Cause Planes to Crash? They appeared late last year, after the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration warned that new 5G services from AT&T and Verizon might interfere with the radar altimeters that airplane pilots rely on to land safely. Not true, said AT&T and Verizon, with the backing of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which had authorized 5G. The altimeters are safe, they maintained. Air travelers didn’t know what to believe.

Another recent FCC decision had also created a controversy about public safety: okaying Wi-Fi devices in a 6-gigahertz frequency band long used by point-to-point microwave systems to carry safety-critical data. The microwave operators predicted that the Wi-Fi devices would disrupt their systems; the Wi-Fi interests insisted they would not. (As an attorney, I represented a microwave-industry group in the ensuing legal dispute.)

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