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Hacker 'attacked port in revenge bid'



A lovelorn computer hacker launched an attack on America's busiest port in a bid to seek revenge on a fellow chatroom user, a court has heard.

Aaron Caffrey, 19, brought computer systems to a halt at the port of Houston, in Texas, in what police believe to be the first electronic attack to disable a critical part of a country's national infrastructure.

Prosecutor Paul Addison told a jury at Southwark Crown Court that Caffrey's intended target was a female chatroom user called Bokkie whom he had argued with over anti-American remarks she had made.

The court was told Caffrey, who suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism, was deeply in love with an American girl called Jessica at the time. Caffrey was said to be so obsessed with Jessica that he named his computer after her and dedicated part of his attack script to her.

"In the same way some adolescents draw graffiti on walls, this defendant managed to weave into a file connected to the attack scripts sentiments about his girlfriend Jessica," Mr Addison said.

Mr Addison explained to the court that in order to prevent the attack rebounding it had to pass through a number of intermediary server systems, one of which operated in the port in Houston - the eighth largest in the world. Its computer systems were bombarded with thousands of electronic messages on September 20, 2001.

The attack left the port's web service, which contained crucial data for shipping pilots, mooring companies and support firms responsible for helping ships navigate in and out of the harbour, inaccessible placing shipping at risk.

"The attack could have had catastrophic repercussions to life and limb of those reliant on the computer in the port of Houston. The data on the server contains information on navigation, tides, water depths and weather. No injury or damage was, in fact, caused," Mr Addison said.

US authorities were able to trace the computer's internet provider number to a computer at Caffrey's home in Fairlane, Shaftesbury, Dorset. "The investigation showed a clear link between the defendant's computer here in England, Bokkie's computer in the US and the port of Houston's computer in Texas," Mr Addison said.

Caffrey, who denies one charge of unauthorised modification of computer material contrary to Section 3(1) of the Computer Misuse Act 1990 was arrested and questioned by police in January 2002. He told officers he was being exploited by other hackers who launched the attack and planted evidence in his hard drive.