(Newsroom America) -- A resident of Loveland, Ohio, has pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit Internet extortion, where they threatened to release data from the University of Pittsburgh server.
Alexander Waterland, 25, pleaded guilty to one count before United States District Judge Joy Flowers Conti.
In April, Alexander Waterland, 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.
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 is 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.
An e-mail was sent by the conspirators in Ohio from an e-mail account they had created at firstname.lastname@example.org to the e-mail address at the University of Pittsburgh at email@example.com, which contained the weblink to AnonOperative13’s YouTube extortionate threat.
Brett Hudson set up a Twitter account in the name of AnonOperative13, which was associated with the firstname.lastname@example.org e-mail account and the AnonOperative13 YouTube account.
Hudson, then posted a weblink to the 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.
In May, the conspirators 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 e-mail to both email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org, received on servers in the Western District of Pennsylvania from their e-mail account at email@example.com, which was entitled “proof of recent breech.”
The e-mail 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, usernames 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 e-mail included attachments that 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. The law provides for a total sentence of five 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.