How I nearly became a cybercriminal and risked violating US CODE Title 18, 1030.
Posted by danishova on February 22, 2009
Ever since Barack Obama and Joe Biden managed to appropriate a dot.Gov domain at their Change.Gov transition website, I’ve been curious as to how they managed to do this. I had already read some blog postings, and the Wikipedia page on this topic, and while I’m not a lawyer, I don’t see how their transition qualified, particularly since it was registered as a 501 (c) 4 organization (see bottom of the screenshot I captured months ago) :
Indeed, while it is perfectly proper for presidential transitions to raise money for the Inaugural and so forth, transitions by previous President-elects in the internet era used a dot.org domain, and thus did not masquerade as official government entities.
Anyhow, getting back to my brush with the cybercriminality, I proceeded to open the dotgov.gov page. Titled, Government Domain Registration and Services, it has various tabs: Home, Register, WHOIS, Policy, News, DNSSEC – New!.
The home page has links at the top and bottom. The first one I decided to try was “FAQ” which I figured would answer some frequently asked questions about acquiring a dot.gov domain. Who knew that this is highly restricted, top secret information? Click on the FAQ link and you get this scary message:
Warning! Use of this site is restricted!
This computer system is for the use of the United States Government. Unauthorized access, or access which exceeds authorized access is punishable under 18 USC 1030.
Just what are the penalties for venturing one click further into the “FAQ page” or "About GSA”? Yikes! A quick read of the law, which relates to Fraud and related activity in connection with computers, indicates they range from 5 years to 20 years in prison and hefty fines.
If they determined that my attempt to access frequently asked questions was “espionage” or “counterintelligence” I would imagine that the penalties would be more severe. Hopefully I’d serve my time in a U.S. prison, and not be shipped off to GITMO, although since some of those prisoners were released after less than 5 years, and had a lot of lawyers working for them at no charge, it could be a better option.
You can open the page and see for yourself…if you dare (if anyone wants to charge me with aiding and abetting cybercrime, I plead, not guilty). All 3 links at the bottom of the page put me one step closer to violating the law. Check out their Security and Privacy Notice? WARNING!; Accessibility Policy? WARNING!; About GSA? WARNING! Yep, apparently it is a violation of law to learn “About GSA”; the only thing I’ve learned about their “Accessibility Policy” is that access is not part of the policy; their privacy notice is so private, only government entities know what it is.
These restrictions pop up regularly as one tries to access various bits of information (did I mention that I feel so much safer knowing that my patriotic tax dollars are being used for such pressing national security issues?).
The good news? At the WHOIS Tab, I was able to do a search of domain names without ending up in jail. Phew! I looked up Change.Gov, and learned that it is part of the General Services Administration (which is odd since I don’t see how a 501 C 4 can be part of the GSA). However, I’ll never know the answer to that particular query since learning about the GSA is …restricted information.
Unless some lawyer wants to offer their pro-bono services on my behalf, I guess I won’t be clicking on About GSA or FAQ anytime soon. And, alas, the mystery of how the Obama-Biden Transition got a dot.gov domain name shall have to remain a mystery for now.