California man to plead guilty to Al-Jazeera hacks

A 24-year-old California man will appear in court to answer charges that he hijacked the internet domain of Arabic news service...

A 24-year-old California man will appear in court to answer charges that he hijacked the internet domain of Arabic news service Al-Jazeera in March.

John William Racine, a web designer, was charged with wire fraud and of unlawful receipt of an electronic communication.

The charges stem from an attack in March that left Qatar-based Al-Jazeera without control of its own website, www.aljazeera.net.

 Visitors to that site instead were forwarded to site displaying words and images in support of US troops.

Racine was alleged to have used phone calls, e-mail and fraudulent documents to gain control of the website hosting account through which Al-Jazeera's website was administered.

Racine allegedly contacted administrators at Network Solutions, a domain name registration and website hosting service owned by VeriSign, representing himself as an Al-Jazeera website administrator.

He asked to update the password used to access the account, then forged a signature on authorisation documents provided by Network Solutions and faxed them back to the company along with a forged ID card, according to Arif Alikhan, assistant US Attorney for the Central District of California and chief of the district's computer crime section.

Once in control of the account, Racine pointed the Al-Jazeera domain to a different website displaying a message in support of the US war in Iraq.

In addition, Racine is alleged to have redirected e-mail sent to Al-Jazeera to a free e-mail account he set up, Alikhan said.

The government became aware of Racine's links to the hacking attacks after he contacted the US Federal Bureau of Investigations and admitted to diverting the Al-Jazeera traffic and intercepting the organisation's e-mail, Alikhan said.

Racine pleaded guilty and in exchange the government will recommend that Racine receive a sentence of three years probation and 1,000 hours of community service, in addition to a fine of $1,500.

Racine will also be asked to pay restitution to his victims, Alikhan said.

Paul Roberts writes for IDG News Service

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