Ohio pair charged in threats claim ties to 'hacktivists'
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A pair of Ohio men declared their affiliation with the hacker group Anonymous and conspired to extort the University of Pittsburgh this spring as the campus was reeling from a series of bomb scares, according to a federal grand jury indictment returned Wednesday.
Accused were Alexander Waterland, 24, of Loveland and Brett Hudson, 26, of Hillsboro, who investigators said threatened to release confidential information about students and faculty if Pitt did not publicly apologize for failing to protect students from the bomb threats. Officials said charges against them were not directly related to the bomb threats but came as a result of the same probe.
According to the indictment, the men created an "extortionate" YouTube video in April that claimed the university's servers had been hacked, although Pitt officials have said their computers were never breached. The YouTube post including images of Guy Fawkes masks, symbols often used by the "hacktivist" group Anonymous.
The men then sent emails to the university with links to the video and further publicized it through Twitter. Investigators said the men, writing under the name "AnonOperative13," posted a comment on the video reiterating the threat to release private information, such as passwords, usernames, parental information and credit card numbers.
"[We] are NOT going to release this information unless Pitt admins dot (sic) follow our very simple request!" the comment said, according to the indictment. "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."
In a May 14 email to Pitt administrators and police, the men added, "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 the students and faculty of Pitt! We are your worst nightmare!"
The sender of the threats then revealed employees' names, email addresses, telephone extensions, office address -- and other information readily available on Pitt's public website.
Officials have said the men, who were employees of pharmaceutical provider Express Scripts in Mason, Ohio, had no affiliation with the university.
Mr. Waterland, first charged in June in connection to the video, was charged again on Wednesday and was free on bond from the earlier case. He referred questions to his attorney, who did not return calls for comment. Mr. Hudson could not be reached.
U.S. Attorney David Hickton said he expected the men to surrender next week to be arraigned on the conspiracy charge.
First Published August 16, 2012 12:00 am