An Ohio man was sentenced to one year and a day in prison this week, plus two years of supervised release, after he attempted to extort the University of Pittsburgh. Adding a unique twist to this story, according to court documents, is the fact the man used the moniker of Anonymous in order to make his threats seem more credible.
According to the FBI and the court records (most of which are now redacted and under seal), Alexander Waterland, 25, was convicted of conspiracy to commit Internet extortion after he and a friend (Brett Hudson) discovered a large cache of data online.
The court says that in 2012, Waterland and his co-worker Hudson downloaded a large amount of data from the University of Pittsburgh that included PII (personal identifying information) of students and faculty.
The PII was discovered by Hudson, but it wasn’t clear from the court documents how they were able to access the data. There isn’t any mention of criminal hacking, though the two did claim such in subsequent communications with the university.
The two men then created a YouTube, Gmail, and Twitter account under the name AnonOperative13, and used it to communicate with the school demanding that they post an apology on their domain for failing to protect the sensitive data. In order to prove their claims the two men posted what they called “near useless information” to the YouTube account.
“The CS Department has done nothing to protect the students of your university. We now have obtained access to every student’s password, username, email addresses, personal addresses, dorm room information, parental information, course information, payment information… and all corresponding credit card information…,” the video posted by the two men said. They also claimed to have the same data on faculty.
Searches of Alexander’s computer showed the system was the one that accessed the AnonOperative13 YouTube account, and his smartphone “revealed a large number of images of individuals wearing Guy Fawkes masks…,” an FBI complaint against Waterland explained.
Other evidence collected from the devices confirmed the links between AnonOperative13 (Waterland) and the threats against the University of Pittsburgh, Alliance Computers, and Georgia College and State University Senate Committee Executives. In addition, the FBI discovered evidence proving that Waterland created the University of Pittsburgh video.
Waterland pleaded guilty last November. Brett Hudson pleaded guilty as well, but his sentencing hasn’t been disclosed. According to court records – now under seal – Hudson was supposed to have been sentenced earlier this year.