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June 28, 2012

Arrest made in YouTube threat

An Ohio man has been arrested in connection with a YouTube posting that claimed that the University’s computer systems had been hacked and personal data on students, faculty and alumni had been stolen.

Alexander Waterland, 24, of Loveland, Ohio, was arrested June 20 and charged with interstate threats/extortion and interstate extortion involving a protected computer. His scheduled June 27 appearance in federal court in Pittsburgh was postponed by joint request of his attorney and prosecutors “to allow time for ongoing discussion” regarding the case. The motion for extension sought a new court date on or before July 9. No date had been set as the University Times went to press yesterday.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Pittsburgh said Waterland faces a maximum penalty of seven years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

The “Anonymous Message to the University of Pittsburgh,” posted April 26 by AnonOperative13, threatened to release the data unless the University posted an apology to students, professors and law enforcement on its home page for not safeguarding the data. (See May 3 University Times.)

The cyberthreat came within days of the last of more than 100 bomb threats that disrupted the campus over the course of 10 weeks. The last of the threats was received April 21.

Waterland has not been charged in the bomb threats.

AnonOperative 13 had posted similar YouTube videos earlier in the year against a Harrisburg-based Alliance Computers, the Georgia State College senate and Ghana-based Waterland was not charged in relation to those postings.

The cyberthreat directed toward Pitt included a synthesized voice and images of people in Guy Fawkes masks, symbols used in messages attributed to the Anonymous activist organization.

According to the affidavit filed June 19 in federal court in Pittsburgh, FBI cyber squad special agent Joseph J. Ondercin stated that Internet Protocol (IP) addresses linked to AnonOperative13 and a related email address were connected to Waterland’s home address as well as to the home of Waterland’s sister in Maryland and to a wireless device owned by the company where Waterland worked.

In addition, someone using the IP address associated with Waterland’s home address was found to have downloaded “a significant amount of data” on faculty, staff and courses from Pitt’s computer science department web pages on the night of April 25.

The FBI seized computers, smart phones and electronic devices at Waterland’s apartment and obtained his work laptop from his employer on May 23.

According to the affidavit, a review of Waterland’s computer found that it had been used to visit the AnonOperative13 YouTube user page; a search of his smart phone found images of Guy Fawkes masks, including images identical to some used in the YouTube videos.

Waterland’s smart phone also was found to have visited voice synthesizing web sites as well as the web sites of the entities that had been threatened by AnonOperative13.

John Fedele, Pitt’s associate director of news, said Waterland has no apparent connections to the University.

The University released the following statement on June 20: “The series of threats made against the University of Pittsburgh earlier this year disrupted the lives of tens of thousands of Pitt students and employees, was a source of anxiety for their family members and interfered with the work of one of the region’s most important institutions.  Members of the University community are grateful that federal law enforcement agencies, led by U.S. Attorney David Hickton, have continued to make this matter a high priority and are pleased that significant progress appears to have been made with respect to this aspect of the investigation.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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