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Teen hacker faces federal charges

Worcester Regional Airport

Caused computer crash that disabled Massachusetts airport

March 18, 1998
Web posted at: 10:40 p.m. EST (0340 GMT)

BOSTON (CNN) -- A Massachusetts teen hacker who disabled communications to the air traffic control tower at the Worcester, Massachusetts, airport in 1997 has become the first juvenile charged in federal court with computer hacking.

The boy, whose age, identity and hometown have not been disclosed, has agreed to plead guilty in return for two years probation, a fine and community service, according to documents released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Justice.

If the plea agreement is accepted by the judge, the teen would also be banned from using a computer with a modem for two years.

"These are not pranks. This is not like throwing spitballs at your teacher," said U.S. Attorney Donald Stern. "Hackers should know that they will be caught and they will be prosecuted."

Donald Stern speaks
icon 306K/13 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

On March 10, 1997, the unidentified hacker broke into a Bell Atlantic computer system, causing a crash that disabled the phone system at the airport for six hours.

Donald Stern
Donald Stern  

The crash knocked out phone service at the control tower, airport security, the airport fire department, the weather service, and carriers that use the airport. Also, the tower's main radio transmitter and another transmitter that activates runway lights were shut down, as well as a printer that controllers use to monitor flight progress.

The hacking also knocked out phone service to 600 homes in the nearby town of Rutland.

No accidents or close calls resulted from the outage at the airport, which handled 60,000 departures and landings in 1997.

"We dodged a bullet that day," said Joseph Hogan, area manager for the airport's air traffic control company.

Justice Department Correspondent Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.

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