An 18-year old student from Woodford Green has been told he's liable for �21,000 damages and five years in prison after he hacked into a government laboratory, claiming he was just trying to download music files.

The hack took place in June last year, when Exeter University student Joseph McElroy, 18, created a programme to enable him to remotely access computers at the Fermi Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois.

McElroy hacked the laboratory's system 17 times and told friends how to do the same. The hack triggered a security alert at the particle research lab, which shut down its computer system for three days as a result.

The US department of Energy told Scotland Yard of the attack, who then traced McElroy.

Stuart Sampson for the prosecution said at Bow Street magistrates yesterday: "The panic button was pushed due to uncertainty. Initially the United States took the issue very seriously because of the nature of the laboratory."

He added that there was no risk to the public because of the hack and that the compensation was needed to cover the labour costs of fixing the programme and cleaning up the damage.

McElroy claimed that he had hacked the lab to enable him to download music and film files from the internet.

The teenager has admitted modifying a computer without authorisation. He has been bailed and will be sentenced in early 2004.


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