Hacker Eric Burns wandered on the Web where few had gone before him, even making an illicit electronic visit inside the computers at the White House earlier this spring.
Now, at age 19, the hacker known on the Internet as "Zyklon" is facing 15 months in prison and orders to repay his victims $36,240. He also won't be allowed to touch a computer for three years after his release.
"I didn't really think it was too much of a big deal," said Burns, who admitted responsibility for sensational attacks on corporate and government Internet sites during his sentencing Friday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va.
Burns pleaded guilty months ago to a single felony count of intentionally hacking into one computer, but he admitted involvement Friday in a spate of electronic assaults.
Burns was initially indicted May 13 on charges of breaking into computers for the U.S. Information Agency and two businesses. That was four days after the White House Internet site Â— at www.whitehouse.gov Â— was electronically assaulted.
Initially, Burns said he wasn't directly involved in that White House attack in which the altered site included the phrase, "following peeps get some shouts," and listed a dozen names, including Zyklon.
But federal prosecutors said Burns boasted of the White House attack online even before it happened, and Burns admitted at his sentencing Friday he was among three people who altered the site briefly to show a black Web page with the names of hacker organizations, along with messages, "Your box was own3d," and, "Stop all the war."
He said Monday in a telephone interview from his home in Shoreline, Wash., that he refused to identify his two partners to the Secret Service, partly because he believes the criminal penalties for hackers are too steep. His punishment didn't fit his crime, he insisted.
"I'd rather not have what happened to me happen to anyone else," Burns said. "I don't really agree with the kind of sentencing range there is for the crime."
U.S. Attorney Helen Fahey said Burns attacked computers on the Internet controlling Web sites for NATO, a U.S. embassy and consulates and even Vice President Al Gore. The USIA Web site was shut down for eight days after Burns' attack.
All told, the attacks cost the government and businesses more than $40,000, prosecutors said.
When the White House site was vandalized, experts "had to shut down the Web server, disconnect both the public and private computer networks from the Internet for two days and reconfigure the computer system," Fahey said in a statement.
Burns expects to report to federal prison in four to six weeks, which he hopes will let him spend Thanksgiving and the holidays with his family. With time off for good behavior, his lawyer told him he might spend as few as 13 months behind bars.
By Ted Bridis