Computer Ace Indicted in Tapping of U.S. Network
A computer hacker who once gained fame by breaking into the UCLA computer system has been indicted on charges of invading a classified military computer, stealing the unlisted telephone numbers of the Soviet Consulate in San Francisco, and routinely breaching Pacific Bell’s security.
The indictment also alleges that in January, 1988, Kevin L. Poulsen, 24, then a computer expert at SRI International in the Silicon Valley, stole a printout of the unlisted phone numbers of Ferdinand E. Marcos and several cronies. The FBI was using the numbers in its investigation of the late Philippine president, who then was living in Hawaii.
Despite the sensitive nature of the information Poulsen allegedly obtained, Assistant U.S. Atty. Robert Crowe of San Jose said Thursday that “it is not an espionage case.”
Poulsen is still at large. Prosecutors believe that he is hiding in the Los Angeles area. He called authorities earlier this week, but used his skill with telephones to evade a phone trace, prosecutors said.
His two co-defendants have turned themselves in.
The indictment does not charge that Poulsen sold the material he obtained, such as the Soviet Consultate telephone numbers. Instead, he is accused of possessing what he took--computer access codes, telephone credit cards numbers, and, more significantly, plans relating to a 1988 Army exercise out of Ft. Bragg, N.C. The plan was classified as “secret” when he stole it, but since has been declassified.
The indictment said Poulsen gained access to the classified Army MASNET computer network. But the indictment does not specify how he gained such access or how he obtained the Soviet Consulate numbers from the phone company.
Poulsen also is charged with tapping the phone conversations of a North Hollywood family, apparently because he was infatuated with the daughter. The FBI discovered Poulsen’s tapes of the family’s phone conversations.
“Kevin is a very lonely and sad person. He felt powerless in his life and doing this was a way for him to have power,” Annette Randol, mother of Sean Randol, the young North Hollywood woman who had caught Poulsen’s fancy, said in an interview.
Annette Randol said Poulsen dropped by the Randol home in 1984, boasting that the prestigious SRI of Menlo Park offered him a job after seeing articles about his hacking exploits. At the age of 17 in 1983, Poulsen made headlines when Los Angeles law enforcement authorities investigated him and a friend for what was one of the earliest known computer break-ins.
He had used a Radio Shack laptop computer to gain wide-ranging access to a university research network. Although Poulsen acknowledged his activities, he said at the time that he did not realize he was doing something wrong. He was never charged, but his friend was sentenced to three years’ probation.
“The people who hired him did know he had some hacker experience in his background, but he was a very bright guy,” said Donn Parker, security expert with SRI.
Also charged in the indictment unsealed on Wednesday were Mark K. Lottor, 25, of Menlo Park, and Robert E. Gilligan, 31, of San Francisco, also past or present SRI computer employees.
Poulsen faces up to 37 years in prison. Lottor and Gilligan could be sentenced to up to 20 years.
The indictment says Poulsen and his roommate, Lottor, carried out their activities from their Menlo Park apartment living room, which they dubbed “the Switching Room” and had equipped with computers and telephones.
The indictment also accuses Poulsen of using Pacific Bell identification badges to gain access to its facilities, and then stealing various items. Additionally, Poulsen allegedly intercepted phone calls placed by Pacific Bell itself--as part of an effort to obstruct the company’s investigation of him.