A Texas jury has acquitted a computer security analyst who last year was accused of wrongful access to a county computer network.
In March of 2002, Stefan Puffer discovered that the Harris County district clerk's wireless computer network was unprotected. Anyone with a wireless network card had the ability to gain access to sensitive computers and files.
Puffer demonstrated the problem to county officials, but rather than receiving any thanks, he was swiftly indicted on two counts of fraud. He faced five years in jail and a $250,000 fine for each offense.
However, after only 15 minutes of deliberation, the jurors in the case found on Thursday that Puffer did not intend to cause any damage to the county's systems.
"Throughout the trial we proved -- at least it was clear -- the county had their wireless butt out and they were trying to use Stefan as a scapegoat," Ed Chernoff, Puffer's attorney, told the Houston Chronicle.
Chernoff told jurors in his closing argument that Harris County District Clerk Charles Bacarrisse called the authorities on Puffer to cover up the office's security incompetence. Bacarrisse conceded that he was embarrassed by Puffer's demonstration.
Commenting on the case, U.S. Attorney Michael Shelby compared Puffer's actions to an intrusion of someone's home. A better analogy might have been to a locksmith demonstrating the ease of breaking into a home -- right in front of the homeowner, followed by the locksmith being arrested.
Even after the jury rendered its decision, a disappointed Shelby insisted that Puffer had "intentionally invaded a cyberspace."
The widespread insecurity of 802.11b wireless networks, such as the one accessed by Puffer, has been repeatedly demonstrated by hackers. Most cities are still filled with such networks, many of which allow passers-by to anonymously access networks both public and private.