Ohio Man Pleads Guilty in Internet Extortion Scheme
PITTSBURGH - A resident of Loveland, Ohio, pleaded guilty in federal court to a charge of conspiracy to commit internet extortion, United States Attorney David J. Hickton announced today.
Alexander Waterland, 25, pleaded guilty to one count before United States District Judge Joy Flowers Conti.
In connection with the guilty plea, the court was advised that on April 25, 2012, Alexander Waterland, a resident of Loveland, Ohio, downloaded a large amount of data from the University of Pittsburgh server, which was located in the Western District of Pennsylvania. Waterland downloaded this data, which included identifying information of students and faculty, at the suggestion of Brett Hudson, who was his co-worker in Ohio, who sent him the weblink where the information could be downloaded from. The purpose of this download was to include it in an internet threat that they would send to the University of Pittsburgh.
On or about April 26, 2012, using a YouTube account they had created in the name of AnonOperative13, the conspirators in Ohio created and posted a video onto YouTube claiming to be members of the hacking group Anonymous, which a loosely connected international network of computer hackers that have increasingly become associated with international hacktivism, usually with the goal of promoting Internet freedom and freedom of speech. The video claimed that the University's servers containing confidential student and instructor information had been compromised, that the University's Hydrogen server had been compromised with 200 gigabytes of data stolen, and that unless the University of Pittsburgh altered their webpage domain to include an apology from the Chancellor of the University, such confidential information would be released. This video threat was received by the University of Pittsburgh staff in the Western District of Pennsylvania.
On or about April 26, 2012, an email was sent by the conspirators in Ohio from an email account they had created at email@example.com, to the email address at the University of Pittsburgh at firstname.lastname@example.org which contained the weblink to AnonOperative13's YouTube extortionate threat.
On or about April 27, 2012, Brett Hudson set up a Twitter account in the name of AnonOperative13, which was associated with the email@example.com email account and the AnonOperative13 YouTube account.
On or about April 28, 2012, Brett Hudson, from Ohio, posted a weblink to the April 26, 2012 YouTube video threat against the University of Pittsburgh by AnonOperative13 onto the Twitter account of AnonOperative13. This tweet was received by the administration of the University of Pittsburgh.
On or about May 2, 2012, the conspirators in Ohio posted a comment to the YouTube video of April 26, 2012, which was still up on YouTube. The comment, which was posted in response to numerous other comments posted by other viewers of YouTube who had seen the threat video against the University of Pittsburgh, stated "we are NOT going to release this information unless Pitt admins don't follow our very simple request! We are giving Pitt until Monday, May 6, 2012 and should remain posted for no less than 15 days. To help determine if this threat is real or not, we have posted very little and near useless information, but should prove our point!! We also would like to mention that we have no ties with the current bomb threats as we do not condone violence or harm to any person. This would directly violate our rules of engagement. Enjoy the information and Pitt can stop the release of information; however, the morning of Monday." The bomb threats referenced by Hudson and Waterland in the posting were a series of high profile bomb threats which were sent over the internet to the University of Pittsburgh administrators from March 30 until April 21, 2012. Similar to Hudson and Waterland's internet demands of the administration of the University of Pittsburgh beginning five days later, the perpetrator of the bomb threats also extorted the administration of the University of Pittsburgh. As proof of their seriousness, the conspirators posted personal data they purported to have stolen from the University of Pittsburgh servers.
On May 6, the purported deadline, Hudson texted Waterland stating "Dude scan Pitt.edu we need something to post," indicating the need to download more data from the University of Pittsburgh server in order to make good on their threat.
On or about May 14, 2012, the conspirators in Ohio sent an email to both firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, received on servers in the Western District of Pennsylvania from their email account at firstname.lastname@example.org, which was entitled "proof of recent breech." The email stated "do what's best, time is of the essence, so you have seven days to have the public apology to the students released...otherwise user names and passwords are next! We are anonymous! We are legion! We are your brothers and sisters! We are the students and faculty of Pitt! We are your worst nightmare! The internet is here! You will now Expect us!" Again, the email included attachments which purported to be personal information stolen from the University of Pittsburgh's computer servers in order to prove their credibility.
Judge Conti scheduled sentencing for March 13, 2013, at 3:30 p.m. The law provides for a total sentence of 5 years in prison, a fine of $250,000, or both. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed is based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the criminal history, if any, of the defendant.
Pending sentencing, the court continued Waterland on bond.
On October 17, 2012, Brett Hudson entered his plea of guilty for his involvement in this matter. His sentencing is set for February 8, 2013, at 2:30 p.m.
Assistant United States Attorney James T. Kitchen is prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted the investigation that led to the prosecution of Waterland and Hudson.