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`Curiosity hack' got access to FBI files

Data breached on 38,000 workers

WASHINGTON -- A government consultant, using computer programs easily found on the Internet, managed to crack the FBI's classified computer system and gain the passwords of 38,000 employees, including that of FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.

The break-ins, which occurred four times in 2004, gave the consultant access to records in the Witness Protection program and details on counterespionage activity, according to documents filed in US District Court in Washington. As a direct result, the bureau said it was forced to temporarily shut down its network and commit thousands of man-hours and millions of dollars to ensure no sensitive information was lost or misused.

The government does not allege that the consultant, Joseph Thomas Colon, intended to harm national security. But prosecutors said Colon's ``curiosity hacks" nonetheless exposed sensitive information.

Colon, 28, an employee of BAE Systems , said in court filings that he used the passwords and other information to bypass bureaucratic obstacles and better help the FBI install its new computer system. And he said agents in his office approved his actions.

An FBI spokesman, Paul Bresson, declined to discuss the specifics of the Colon case. But he said the FBI has recently implemented a ``comprehensive and proactive security program" that includes layered access controls.

Colon pleaded guilty in March to four counts of intentionally accessing a computer while exceeding authorized access and obtaining information from any department of the United States. He could face up to 18 months in prison .

Colon was scheduled for sentencing yesterday, but it was postponed until next week.

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