Hack Suspect Held for Alleged Internet Use

An FBI search Thursday turns up evidence that accused eBay hacker Jerome Heckenkamp used the Internet in violation of his pre-trial release restrictions. But is it all a misunderstanding?

Six days after he convinced a bemused federal judge to rescind his bond and send him to jail, accused eBay hacker Jerome Heckenkamp is having a somewhat harder time getting back out.

In a hearing at the federal courthouse in San Jose, Calif. Thursday, U.S. magistrate Patricia Trumble ordered that Heckenkamp remain in custody to face new allegations that he violated computer-related conditions of his pre-trial release sometime before his voluntary imprisonment last Friday.

The accusations came hours after Heckenkamp's pre-trial release supervisor and two agents of the FBI's elite Computer Analysis and Response Team (CART) carried out an early-morning search of Heckenkamp's computer at the San Jose home where he rents a room. The team allegedly turned up evidence that the computer whiz violated a year-old court order banning him from using the Internet while free on bail.

"There were definite indications that the Internet had been accessed from that computer, or at least the hard drive in that computer," assistant U.S. attorney Ross Nadel told the court.

Trumble ordered that Heckenkamp's computer be seized for further examination. A full hearing on the pre-trial allegations is set for Tuesday morning.

Heckenkamp's lawyer, Jennifer Granick, pointed out that the PC did not have a modem, and claimed that the disk drive in the computer had previously been used by Heckenkamp's father in a completely different PC. It was the senior Heckenkamp who used the Internet, said Granick.

In a telephone interview after the hearing, Heckenkamp's father backed up Granick's claim, and said his son brought the hard drive with him on a recent visit over the holidays. "I used it quite a bit, to keep up with things," said Thomas Heckenkamp, a Wisconsin pharmacist. "I did get some information for him [from the Internet], but so what. I used it, got some information, then got offline and that's it."

Also at issue is Heckenkamp's possession of the computer in first place. Nadel told the court that Heckenkamp had been authorized by his pre-trial supervisor to own only a single computer, a laptop, that FBI agents had sealed by covering the Ethernet, USB and printer ports with police evidence tape. Granick insisted that the supervisor later approved the desktop machine as well.

The Thursday search followed-up an earlier inspection of Heckenkamp's home on the heels of his Friday self-detention. In that first visit, supervising pre-trial services officer Jacqueline Peoples and FBI agents noted that the tape on the back of the laptop appeared to have been disturbed.

According to Nadel, Peoples brought the FBI to assist with the searches because the theoretically-independent Pre-Trial Services office had no computer expertise of its own.


  A former network engineer at Los Alamos National Labs in New Mexico, Heckenkamp lost his job in January, 2001 when prosecutors charged him with defacing eBay under the hacker handle MagicFX in 1999, while a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin. He's also charged with penetrating computers belonging to Lycos, Exodus Communications, Juniper Networks, E-Trade Group and Cygnus Support Solutions. Heckenkamp says he's innocent on all counts. His trial is set for March.

The supervising officer's and the FBI's interest in Heckenkamp's pre-trial conduct after a year without incident was apparently triggered by Heckenkamp's extraordinary efforts to get out from under the $50,000 bond that secured his release.

Those efforts began Friday, when Heckenkamp unexpectedly fired attorney Jennifer Granick, and in an impromptu hour-long hearing persuaded the reluctant Trumble to rescind, or "exonerate," the bail, which was posted by a friend a year ago. At his own request, Heckenkamp was taken into custody, though procedural hang-ups have kept the money from being returned. Heckenkamp later rehired Granick.

In an interview at the Santa Clara County Jail on Tuesday, Heckenkamp told SecurityFocus that his actions were aimed at relieving his friend from the financial burden of the bond, and were also prompted by growing frustration over the slow pace of his criminal case, and the ongoing restrictions that conditioned his release. "As long as I was out on bond, I didn't feel free anyway," said Heckenkamp. "And I can't work on my case properly with the computer restrictions."

After Thursday's hearing, prosecutor Nadel said Heckenkamp's behavior looked suspicious. "The timing of it, coming in Friday and asking for bail exoneration, and now the Internet access, raises questions," said Nadel.

But Granick said there's no big mystery. "The gentleman who posted the bail for him wants it back," said Granick. "He wanted it back before the holidays, but he waited until Jerome had the chance to go home and visit his family."

By Kevin Poulsen

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.