Sandia Labs Backhacker Wins $4.3m in Court

On February 20, 2007, in hacking, legal, by Eugene

A (former) security guy at Sandia Labs, Shawn Carpenter, was fired for “backhacking” systems that he detected attacks from. “Backhacking occurs when networks are attacked and someone on the hacked network responds with a counterhack or attack.” Even though he was cooperating with the FBI and Army Research Lab on the investigations, Sandia did not approve and ordered him to stop. He didn’t stop, so they fired him, and then he sued. Mr. Carpenter must have a damn good lawyer, because he won a $4.3 million judgment, largely in punitive damages. I’m a bit torn by that verdict. Although I admire him for detecting the attacks and trying to defend against them, actually backhacking was probably not a good idea. After all, that puts the liability on his employer, which clearly was not willing to accept it in this case.

For some more background on Shawn and this case, check out his Wikipedia entry.


2 Responses to “Sandia Labs Backhacker Wins $4.3m in Court”

  1. Mark Haddock says:

    You are missing a lot of the crucial facts of this case. It was reported on extensively here in the local media; the Albuquerque Journal provided daily coverage of the trial. Mr. Carpenter testified that he conducted “backhacking” operations regularly during his employment at Sandia, to the benefit of his employer. He sent reports of his activities, in addition to the hacking tools that were the fruits of his labors, up the chain of command to officials at the Department of Energy. His employer knew exactly what he was doing during the years that he was employed there.

    It was only when he found information that was stashed on a foreign server that indicated that agencies OUTSIDE of Sandia and the DOE were affected was he ordered to not do anything with the information. Mr. Carpenter tried to find channels within Sandia to get the information to the Army and affected defense contractors, but his employer told him that they only cared about their computers.

    You might want to do some more reading on the press coverage to get all of the facts before you rush to judgment. Do you really think that one good lawyer can push a case through the hurdles of the legal system (including the judge), and “trick” a jury into large punitive damages? Don’t you think that Sandia had good lawyers? According to the new mexico courts web site, they hired three attorneys at a good firm in Albuquerque, besides the attorneys they already have on staff.

    And all of their attorneys are being paid by your tax dollars; they have a bottomless pit of money to draw from. The real court system doesn’t work like the court systems on Law and Order or other Hollywood movies. Take some time and educate yourself about Mr. Carpenter’s case, and see if you still feel the same way.

  2. Sephiroth says: