Thursday, August 16, 2007

We know about password attacks in Kansas

I was making a dent in a sink full of dishes tonight and half listening to the TV when a show caught my interest. Dateline NBC was airing a segment on the disappearance of John Elwin during a business trip. Apparently his girlfriend, Kirsten Flood, wasn't initially having luck interesting authorities in a search for clues about the whereabouts of Mr. Elwin. Frustrated, she engaged a friend, Denise Tripoli, with "experience in Internet security" to help.

The following excerpt comes from the show's transcript:

   If only she could hack into Elwin's e-mail account, they might discover where he was.

   The two women wracked their brains trying to guess at a pass code that would give them access.

   FLOOD: [We tried] his birthday, his social security number. And I just kept going down the list until I hit it.

   FLOOD: And lo and behold, we got into it.

   BOB MORRISON: What did you find there?

   TRIPOLI: We broke into his account at eleven o'clock at night, and I was up till three in the morning, looking through every e-mail. And I was very disturbed by what I saw.

I certainly won't pretend that I would avoid this temptation if one of my friends or family members went missing and I had exhausted other options. Nonetheless, I was a little disturbed by the casual explanation of how these women broke the law to gain access to Mr. Elwin's email account. In my opinion, reporting this part of the story in this manner trivializes the ethical and legal implications of getting into another person's email account.

You would expect that a news organization so eager to expose the secret underworld of hackers would act more responsibly.

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