I just noticed this story in my feed reader from before Christmas. I don’t know why I found the Computerworld story on the Massachusetts inmate ‘hacker’ so funny, but I do. Perhaps it is because I envision the prosecutor struggling to come up with a punishable crime. In fact I am not totally sure what law Janosko violated. An additional 18 month sentence for ‘abusing’ a computer provided by the correctional facility … I was unaware such a law existed. Does the state now have to report the breach?

In 2006, Janosko managed to circumvent computer controls and use the machine to send e-mail and cull data on more than 1,100 Plymouth County prison employees. He gained access to sensitive information such as their dates of birth, Social Security Numbers, telephone numbers, home addresses and employment records.

That’s pretty good as terminals, especially those without USB or other forms of external storage, can require a lot of manual work to hack. I bet the prosecutors had to think long and hard on how to charge Janosko. I don’t exactly know what ‘abusing’ a computer means, unless of course you do something like the scene from Office Space when they exact some revenge on a printer. He pleaded guilty to “one count of damaging a protected computer”, but I am not sure how they quantified damages here as it seems improbable a dumb terminal or the associated server could be damaged by bypassing the application interface. Worst case you reboot the server. Maybe this is some form of “unintended use”, or the computer equivalent to ripping off mattress tags. If I was in his shoes, I would have claimed it was ‘research’!