Swathi Padmanabhan’s (’13) Student Note, Hacking for Lulz: Employing Expert Hackers to Combat Cyber Terrorism, was cited by Chief District Judge for the federal court in the District of Idaho B. Lynn Winmill, in Battelle Energy Alliance, LLC., v. Southfork Security, Inc., No. 4:13-cv-00442 (D. Idaho Oct. 15, 2013).

This case arose when one of the individual defendants, Corey Thuen, left his employment with Battelle (a federally contracted research lab manager for the Idaho National Laboratory) to start his own firm, Southfork Security. While at Battelle, Thuen apparently helped to develop intrusion detection software, which could monitor the lab’s network for viruses and malicious activity. Since Southfork offers similar (and perhaps copied) software, Battelle sued Southfork and Thuen alleging that Thuen copied Battelle’s software. Battelle petitioned the court for an ex parte temporary restraining order against Thuen, based largely on Southfork’s website, which included the text: “We like hacking things and we don’t want to stop.” Judge Winmill’s order required Thuen to turn over his computer hard drives for forensic imaging because of the risk that he (a ‘hacker’) could and would likely delete the allegedly copied software without a trace. While there is perhaps room for reasoned debate over the intended meaning of the word “hack” here — the company also includes “securing our nation’s critical infrastructure” as one of its aims – Judge Winmill cited Hacking for Lulz for the proposition that ‘hackers’ often ‘cover their tracks.’ And setting aside distinctions between white hat hackers and black hat hackers, it is certainly likely that self-proclaimed cybersecurity experts have the technical skills to permanently erase digital evidence (though intent remains another matter).

More recently, Southfork has hit back, even going so far as to post the litigation briefs and declarations on its website. It says it developed its software completely independently (while Thuen was on an approved professional leave to found a potentially competing startup), explaining its quick turnaround by referring to its open-source model and its reliance on open-source components. It is even soliciting donations to cover its legal defense from supporters of “free software and hacking.” One thing is certain: it will be interesting to watch this case play out.

–Brad Edmondson

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