Ohio man charged in Pitt YouTube threat

Authorities say probe continues into scares

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A 24-year-old computer specialist who declared his affiliation with the hacker group Anonymous is charged with threats and extortion against the University of Pittsburgh, according to court documents unsealed Wednesday.

Alexander Waterland, of Loveland, Ohio, claimed to have hacked into Pitt's computers and threatened to reveal information about students and faculty, according to a FBI affidavit in the case. It said that he authored an April 26 YouTube video and subsequent emails demanding that Pitt officials publicly apologize for what he called "your lack of care for your students' valuable, and yet vulnerable, information."

Coming days after the last of scores of bomb threats against Pitt, the posting sparked a seven-week cyber investigation, though university officials said their computers were not breached.

The arrest of Mr. Waterland, who has no affiliation with the university, does not end the bomb threat probe, authorities said.

"Beginning in mid-February and continuing throughout the Spring semester, there were three sets of threats that targeted the University of Pittsburgh and caused the disruption of campus operations," U.S. Attorney David Hickton said. "The first set were bomb threats written on bathroom walls. The second set were anonymous emailed bomb threats. The third set were posts on YouTube.

"The charges against Alexander Waterland address the third set of threats."

The YouTube posting included an image of five Guy Fawkes masks, symbols often used by the "hacktivist" group Anonymous.

In a digitally modified voice, it said that Pitt caused the imprisonment of Anonymous supporters, but did not name them. It said that Anonymous had passwords, usernames, parental information, payment information, credit card information, grades and other data related to Pitt students, plus information on faculty.

The posting drew derision on YouTube. "You ruin Anonymous' name by making childish threats that you can't follow through on," one person wrote in comments posted below the video.

The group did not respond to a request for comment.

On May 14, according to the affidavit, an email to Pitt police urged that the university "Do what's best, time is of essence, so you have seven days to have the public apology to the students released. ... We are your worst nightmare!"

The sender of the threats then revealed university employees' names, email addresses, telephone extensions and offices addresses, and some employees' curriculum vitae. Such information is available on Pitt's public website.

FBI agents tracked the Internet traffic to Mr. Waterland's apartment, to his sister's home and to his place of employment, at pharmaceutical provider Express Scripts in Mason, Ohio.

"He is no longer with the company and we are cooperating with the investigation," said Brian Henry, an Express Scripts spokesman who would provide no other information.

The FBI also connected Mr. Waterland to anonymous threats against two businesses and the Georgia College and State University Senate, according to the affidavit.

Mr. Waterland is charged with interstate threats and extortion, and interstate extortion involving a protected computer. Pitt's computers are classified as "protected" under federal law.

Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg thanked Mr. Hickton's office for "significant progress" in the threats probe.

Mr. Waterland was arrested by FBI agents Wednesday and made an initial appearance in federal court in Ohio. He is expected to be transferred to the Pittsburgh area for prosecution.

education - neigh_city

Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542. First Published June 21, 2012 12:00 AM


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