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Hackers Fined, Warned Over Wright Bros. Plane

By Marissa Vogt


A group of hackers responsible for putting the replica of the Wright Brother’s plane on the Great Dome on Dec. 17, 2003 was recently punished. Oliver E. Kosut ’04, one of the six hackers who were caught, said that he was informed mid-February by assistant dean for student discipline Carol Orme-Johnson that the MIT Police had filed a formal complaint.

According to Kosut, he was then told that he would have to go through a hearing process with one dean and one student, held in mid-March. Kosut said he received a $50 fine and was placed on disciplinary warning, which the Office of Student Discipline’s Web site defines as “written notice that the conduct engaged in is inconsistent with Institute policies/standards” along with notification “that future violations may result in the imposition of more serious sanctions.”

According to Kosut, a note describing the punishment was placed on his official record. The letter, Kosut said, “stays in my official record until I graduate” and “stays in the memory of the Committee on Discipline forever.”

Kosut would not comment on the identities or punishments of the other five hackers who were caught. Orme-Johnson said that she could not discuss the specifics of any disciplinary case.

Three options involve hearings

Kosut, who says he has been caught while hacking before, said that the main difference between this and previous times was the process of a hearing.

“What happened to me when I was caught before, and in anything I’ve ever heard of anyone being caught, there was no hearing,” said Kosut. “The fact that there was one was surprising to me.”

Kosut said that of the five other hackers who were caught, only one had been caught before, and that person also went through the hearing process.

“Only if you’d been caught before did you get a hearing,” said Kosut.

Orme-Johnson said that each case is considered individually, and that there are three possible ways that a case can be handled.

The first way is through a dean’s office panel, where a hearing is held by three administrators and two students. The second, is an administrative review by one dean and one student, which was the case in this instance. The third option involves the Committee on Discipline.

Because each case is handled individually, Orme-Johnson said, “there is no automatic hearing.”

There is actually a “fourth possible way that a case can be resolved without a hearing,” by just talking with a dean, Orme-Johnson said. “Roof cases have been handled in that way.”

Orme-Johnson declined to comment on why Kosut’s case was not handled without a hearing. She said that the decision to have a hearing is made by associate dean of student discipline Steven J. Tyrell.

Tyrell could not be reached for comment.

Hacking punishments questioned

Kosut said he found that the worst part of the hearing process and his punishment was that multiple offenses have more serious consequences.

“It’s a sentiment that disturbs me, because it means if you get caught, you can’t hack anymore,” Kosut said.

Kosut also said that he is bothered by the hypocrisy that exists in a punishment for an action that brings MIT so much positive publicity. The Wright Brother’s plane was pictured on MIT’s home page on the day of the hack and also appeared in The Boston Globe.

“I don’t blame anyone in particular,” Kosut said. “They’re not the ones who are generating publicity and reaping the benefits, and I don’t blame the alumni office for taking advantage of [the positive publicity], because they’re not the ones who were punishing me.”

“The problem is a higher level, he said. “People way up in the administration, if they care about hacks and the publicity, that message was not handed down to the people who punish them.”