The decision by the Crown Prosecution Service not to charge NASA hacker Gary McKinnon and instead leave him to be extradited to the US highlights the mass of contradictions around the government’s attitude to hacking and cybercrime.
Many IT professionals have no sympathy whatsoever with McKinnon for his exploits. I’ve been surprised by the number of mild-mannered IT directors I’ve met who want him sent down for a long time, if not sent to the electric chair.
Sophos’s Graham Cluley, ever ready with a comment, hit on another reaction though when he said today:
"The IT community is showing a lot of sympathy for his plight, and today's news will come as a blow. The real question is should we really be making such an example of a guy who was apparently just a UFO conspiracy theory nut? There's a danger that McKinnon is being used as a whipping-boy by a country embarrassed about the poor security of its computers in the months after 9/11."
I think he is right – whatever McKinnon’s motivation, whether UFO nut struggling with Asbergers, or cynical hacker, he just shouldn’t have been able to do what he did. McKinnon is being used as a fig leaf to hide the US military’s shame.
What strikes me as wrong is the way some in government and Whitehall are happy to send McKinnon packing, yet at the same time ministers and civil servants themselves have had such a miserable record on cybercrime.
However they try to disguise it, the National High Tech Crime Unit was effectively disbanded a few years back and it has taken a couple of years to get a reasonably functional alternative back together.
We have now got thePolice Central E-Crime Unit and its joint head Detective Superintendent Charlie McMurdie, was right to call at a forum held earlier this week for businesses to break from their habits and start reporting online crime to the PCeU.