When does unauthorised access to email become hacking?

by | Jan 1, 2011 | Cyber-Threat, Data Security, Forensic Data & Cyber Threats | 0 comments

Home | When does unauthorised access to email become hacking?

In late December 2010 in the US state of Michigan, a man has been charged by Police under anti-hacking laws intended to combat the unlawful accessing and copying of data such as Intellectual Property, personal data or financial related information. However, the man is accused instead of logging into his wife’s email account without her permission and viewing her emails.

The man, Leon Walker, instead learned from the emails in his wife’s Gmail account that she was having an affair with her second husband. Walker decided to inform his wife’s first husband [this gets complicated] as there was an issue regarding the son of the first husband and Walker feared for the boy’s safety. When the first husband took action based on these emails, the wife reported Walker to the Police and he was arrested.

Walker’s arrest raises considerable queries over evidence obtained in relation to divorce and family court matters. Around half of US divorce cases centre on the disclosure of some form of electronic data such as emails, text messages or social networking posts. If the other side’s legal team can object to this data claiming that it was collected in an underhand way, then the evidence may be thrown out by the court. This could result in many family court and other civil matters being unable to proceed.

Walker has claimed that he and his wife shared the computer and that he merely looked at the emails and didn’t need consent. The wife claims that this isn’t so and that Walker had no right to look at the emails. It will be interesting to see how the court rules and whether any appeals will make precedence for future cases. Other cases have turned on whether an individual had actual or implied permission to view certain information on a computer, website or mobile phone.

Walker’s legal counsel stated that the prosecutor was using a law that was aimed at computer hackers attempting to steal data or compromise systems and instead applying it to a divorce matter. The main

This case has some similarities to that of a famous case involving the unofficial viewing of emails; that of former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin’s Yahoo emails in 2008. In May 2010, David C Kernell was found guilty of obstruction of justice and unauthorised access to a computer. Kernell was alleged to have broken into the personal Yahoo email account of Sarah Palin by guessing her password reminder. Kernell had no relationship to Palin that could explain why he may have a reason to access her emails.

After accessing the yahoo account, Kernel then went on to post copies of Palin’s emails, addresses of her contacts, and family photos on Wikileaks. As Palin was running for Vice President at the time, this simple breach of security had serious ramifications for her campaign.

The obstruction of justice conviction related to the fact that Kernell had deleted evidence from his computer hard drive after investigations commenced in to identifying the person responsible for hacking into the Yahoo account.

When conducting an investigation that involves the viewing of electronic files and data, it is imperative that the provenance of the data be established. Does the investigator have the right or permission to copy, recover, analyse or view these files – from the owner or via a court order? Legal privilege issues should also be considered and legal advise should be sought if anything appears to uncertain. Failure to follow proper forensic computer procedures could result with the evidence being invalidated and the matter being dismissed by a court.

Do you need to know more about our services and how Regents can assist you with computer forensics? Simply go to our Computer Forensics page for our phone numbers or else send an email to contactus@regentsriskadvisory.com with your contact details and we will respond at once.

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