The FBI is stepping up its investigation of a University of Tennessee student — the son of a Democratic state representative — who allegedly hacked into the personal e-mail of Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
Televisions stations and a local newspaper reported that FBI agents served a federal search warrant at the residence of David Kernell early Sunday morning. The student — whose IP address had been fingered by Internet sleuths as the culprit before being identified by his father — was apparently throwing a party when the agents arrived.
David Kernell is the son of Mike Kernell, a Democratic state representative from Memphis. Earlier, Mike Kernell had confirmed that it was his son being identified as the hacker on the web.
But at least one sleuth thinks the FBI may have the wrong man. He is suggesting that Kernell’s account may have been hacked into or hijacked and used by the real culprit.
A Department of Justice spokesperson confirmed to Knoxville-based WBIR TV that "investigatory activity" in Knoxville was in progress regarding the Palin case, but she said there are no publicly available search warrants, and no charges have been filed.
A separate law enforcement source confirmed to the station that a search warrant was served on Kernell's apartment.
According to the witness, several agents arrived at The Commons of Knoxville around midnight. They presented their badges upon entering Kernell's apartment, where several students were having a party, and took down their names.
Witnesses said that the agents then escorted everyone out of the apartment and spent about 2 hours taking pictures of everything inside the apartment. Kernell's three roommates were also subpoenaed, and must testify this week in Chattanooga, according to the witness.
Numerous web sites say someone going by the name "Rubico" has admitted to hacking Palin's email. According to Wired.com, "Rubico" made the claim in an internet posting. This person boasted it was easy to access Palin's Yahoo! account by using information like her zip code and birthdate. Various people on the internet have quickly associated Rubico with David Kernell.
Gabriel Ramuglia, the webmaster of Ctunnel, an Athens, Ga.-based proxy service used by the hacker, told Computerworld magazine Sunday that he wasn't sure the FBI was investigating the right man. Ramuglia had searched the Ctunnel logs for evidence of the Palin account hack. He reported his findings to the agency Saturday.
Ramuglia said he had identified the IP address used by the person who broke into the Palin account. "It seems that the user in question did access the account using Ctunnel," Ramuglia said, "and I have the IP address of that user."
He also said that the FBI had leads of its own. "They already had a kind of idea who it was, because they gave me an IP address to look for," he said, which made it much easier to locate the section of his logs pertinent to the Palin hack.
But he couldn't link Kernell to that IP address.
"Because I'm not in contact with the Internet service provider, I'm not 100% sure of where the IP is based," he said. "But from what I can tell, the IP address doesn't look consistent with the media reports."
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