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No indictment for alleged Palin e-mail hacker


A federal grand jury today decided not to indict a University of Tennessee student in connection with the hacking of Republican vice presidential pick Sarah Palin's personal e-mail. The panel let David Kernell, the son of Democratic state Rep. Michael Kernell of Memphis, off the hook—for now—but the Justice Department told the Tennessean that its  "inquiry into this matter is ongoing."

The Alaska governor's Yahoo! e-mail account was broken into last week by someone with an Internet address traced to the younger Kernell's apartment complex in Knoxville, Ars Technica reports. Someone visited Yahoo!'s mail service, reset Palin's password and announced results of the break-in on the Web site.

The FBI and U.S. Secret Service are investigating the incident, which was a multi-step process made possible by weaknesses in the password reset feature (found on many Web sites—not just Yahoo!) as well as proxy servers that allow people to cover their tracks as they navigate the Web. The hacker (or hackers) may have exploited the password resetting system of Yahoo's e-mail service using details about Palin's life—her birth date and zip code, for example—pulled from sources freely available on the Web.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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