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Electronic Whiz Found Guilty of Computer Taps

Times Staff Writer

A 21-year-old self-taught computer whiz from UCLA was convicted in Los Angeles Superior Court of tapping into an international computer network linking research agencies and the Defense Department.

Superior Court Judge Gordon Ringer found Ronald Mark Austin guilty of 12 felony counts and acquitted the slender, blond student of a 13th count in which he was accused of using his home computer to charge airline tickets to someone else.

Austin, free on bail, left the courtroom with friends without commenting on the verdicts. The judge set a sentencing hearing for Aug. 23.

“We’re going to appeal,” defense attorney Mark Bledstein told reporters after the trial. “We just don’t believe that it has been shown beyond a reasonable doubt that it was Mr. Austin who entered these computers.”

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Austin was arrested in his Santa Monica apartment on Nov. 2, 1983, and accused of breaking into computer files at military, university and private research organizations by using a Commodore 64 home computer.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Clifton H. Garrott maintained that Austin entered the computer systems to create havoc by changing users’ passwords and deleting information.

Among the computer systems that Austin was accused of penetrating were those of UCLA; University of California, Berkeley; the Rand Corp., Santa Monica; the Naval Research Laboratory, Washington; the Naval Ocean Systems Center, San Diego, the University of Wisconsin; Cornell University; Purdue University and the Norwegian telecommunications agency. All belonged to the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network.

Data Tampering

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Shortly after Austin’s arrest, Robert H. Philibosian, then Los Angeles County district attorney, estimated that the UCLA sophomore had caused hundreds of thousands of dollars damage by tampering with data and blocking its use. He described information that Austin had seen as “very sensitive.”

Defense Department officials and many of the organizations whose computers were entered told The Times, however, that Austin did not, and could not, see any classified government information.

Austin’s attorney argued that the case against his client had not been proved beyond a reasonable doubt, but he maintained that even if it had been, his client had done nothing more than conduct an experiment without any intention of harming anyone.


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