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April 17, 2008

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Sam

Published: Apr 17, 2008 12:30 AM
Modified: Apr 17, 2008 05:12 AM
Ex-girlfriend invaded Wake official's e-mail


MICHAEL BIESECKER AND THOMASI MCDONALD, Staff Writers
RALEIGH - A Raleigh lawyer has been charged after tapping into the government e-mail account of her ex-boyfriend, a high-ranking Wake official, more than 1,400 times.
Christina Paulette Medlin, 31, is charged with one felony count of accessing government computers. Her lawyer says the e-mail account belonged to Deputy County Manager Joseph K. Durham.
Attorney Collin Cook of Raleigh said Tuesday that his client admits gaining access to the Wake County e-mail account. But he said Medlin's motives were a matter of the heart, not malice.
Cook said Medlin was romantically involved with Durham and accessed his computer in an attempt to find e-mail from other women.
"I don't think anyone involved with this would say that it's anything other than personal," Cook said. "Obviously, she is very embarrassed by all of this."
Beyond embarrassment, however, a felony conviction could endanger Medlin's legal career, potentially resulting in disbarment.
Durham declined to comment Tuesday.
In a statement, County Attorney Scott W. Warren said that after county officials learned of the breach, they contacted the Raleigh Police Department, which started a criminal investigation in December.
Investigators have accused Medlin of accessing a government computer without proper authorization between Aug. 14, 2007, and Dec. 5, 2007, according to the arrest warrant filed April 4.
Logs compiled by the county's information technology department and provided to The News & Observer under a public records request show Durham's work e-mail was accessed 1,409 times from outside computers with Internet addresses that appear to trace back to Medlin.
Durham's e-mail account was accessed 1,076 times from a computer at Brent Adams and Associates, the Raleigh law firm where Medlin works, the records show.
On several days, the log shows unauthorized access of Durham's e-mail account at a rate of several times an hour. On Dec. 5, for example, his account was remotely accessed 92 times, from 6:23 a.m. until 10:11 p.m., according to the county log.
Medlin, who was released from custody after posting a $3,000 bond, declined to comment. She is to appear in Wake District Court on April 28.
Cook said Medlin and Durham had lived together in North Raleigh from September 2006 until September 2007. At the time, Durham was legally separated from his wife of 22 years. They divorced in October 2007, court records show. Durham and Medlin began sharing a residence about six months after he separated from his wife, her attorney said.
Cook said Durham sometimes used Medlin's laptop computer to access his work e-mail at the home they shared. At some point in August 2007, Cook said Durham did not properly close the e-mail account, enabling Medlin to learn his password.
The county computer logs show that most of the unauthorized access to Durham's account occurred after the period Cook said the couple had broken up.
Romance, then snooping
Internet security experts say the use of technology to snoop on a paramour is on the rise, though only a fraction of cases end up in court. Such invasions are often difficult to detect, and evidence is hard to gather.
"This is not uncommon, particularly in romantic episodes," said Eugene Spafford, a Purdue University computer-science professor and the author of books on information security and computer crime. " 'Cyberstalking' is the term that is commonly used."
An additional concern is the frequency and length of time authorities say Medlin was able to access the county's computer system without detection.
Once breached, the Lotus software bundle used by the county could have allowed an outsider to access far more than Durham's e-mail, daily appointment calendar and data files.
A skilled hacker could have used Durham's credentials for wide-ranging access to the county's vast computer network, which contains such sensitive records as personnel files and taxpayer credit card accounts.
"I think the county should do an audit of its systems to ensure they have proper security mechanisms in place, and clearly they don't, if this is happening," said Annie I. Ant-n, an associate professor of software engineering at N.C. State University.
Wake County's computer security has been under scrutiny in recent months since the theft of an Emergency Medical Services laptop containing the names and Social Security numbers of more than 4,600 patients, paramedics and firefighters.
A review found EMS supervisors violated their own procedures by waiting eight days to report the theft. In his role as deputy county manager, Durham has led the continuing investigation into the security lapse.
(News researcher David Raynor contributed to this report.)

michael.biesecker@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4698
News researcher David Raynor contributed to this report.

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