Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Good Samaritan or Hacker? Poteau Newspaper Case Draws National Attention

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Good Samaritan or Hacker? Poteau Newspaper Case Draws National Attention

Article excerpt

It has been more than a year and a-half since Brian West called the publisher of a small, eastern Oklahoma newspaper to point out a serious flaw in the newspaper's Web site. It was easy, he told the publisher, for anybody to access the inner workings of the site and manipulate information.

The publisher called him back, tape-recorded the conversation and gave the tape to police.

Thus began West's ordeal. The 24-year-old employee of an Internet service provider in Stigler has not been charged with a crime, but he has been under investigation by federal authorities since pointing out security problems at the Web site for the Poteau Daily News & Sun, an 8,000-circulation newspaper.

The FBI searched West's office and seized backup data disks and tapes.

The U.S. attorney's office has asked him to appear before a federal grand jury on Sept. 5 for investigation of allegations that he improperly penetrated the Web site. It has also offered him a chance to resolve the matter by pleading guilty to a single charge of computer fraud in exchange for a recommended sentence of probation only.

His attorney, Cherie Chappell, said he will do no such thing, and he will not appear before a grand jury, as is his right. The panel could meet to consider charges in his absence.

West refers all questions to his attorney.

His case has become something of a cause celebre among a certain faction of the Internet community that has been bombarding the U.S. attorney's office and the newspaper with e-mails. Many ask how a man who appears to be nothing more than a good Samaritan could get into such trouble.

Wally Burchett was the publisher who took West's initial call. West had spoken to him previously about placing an ad on the Web site. Burchett no longer works at the newspaper.

"It was frightening," Burchett said in a telephone interview from Cookeville, Tenn. …

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