When the hacktivist group "CabinCr3w" boasted of hacking into multiple government websites on Twitter and PasteHTML.com, they linked to a number of images of a bikini-clad woman holding written taunts. But what the hackers apparently failed to realize was that the images, which had been taken with an iPhone, included GPS coordinates in their EXIF metadata.
According to a criminal complaint filed last month in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Austin Division, that clue helped lead investigators to Galveston, Texas-based Higinio O. Ochoa III, 30. The complaint, which was unsealed last week when Ochoa appeared in court, accuses him of being a member of the "group of hackers who work together and plan their attacks together under the banner of Anonymous" known as CabinCr3w.
[ What can IT learn from hacktivists' threats? See Anonymous Vs. DNS System: Lessons For Enterprise IT. ]
The bureau also accused Ochoa of hacking into the websites or databases of at least four law enforcement agencies: the West Virginia Chiefs of Police, the Alabama Department of Public Safety, the Texas Department of Safety, and the police department in Mobile, Ala. The attackers behind those hacks also released stolen information, including personal data on 150 West Virginia police officers, and details from an Alabama sex offender registry, including license plate numbers for registered sex offenders.
The FBI said that most of those attacks were announced via Twitter and PasteHTML.com posts, some of which included the aforementioned image links. For example, in the case of the Alabama website attack, "At the bottom of the website is a picture that shows a female, from the neck down in a bikini top with a sign pinned to her skirt which reads, 'PwNd by wOrmer & CabinCr3w <3 u BiTch's!'" according to court documents.
Similar images had been uploaded to image-sharing website imgur.com, and also referenced by a different Twitter account, "Anonw0rmer," according to the bureau. "To my #Fed Followers! ... [image link] ... 'Come me bro! @AnonwOrmer #Cabincr3w," read one of the tweets, which tied the three different handles together.
"The imgur.com websites all lead to images of what appears to be the same female in pictures associated with the TX DPS and Alabama DPS compromises," according to court documents. "These pictures also reference wOrmer and @AnonwOrmer along with CabinCr3w. The links in the post show images of a female in various states of undress holding various signs. One of the pictures is the same as the Alabama DPS picture with the EXIF data that shows it was taken in Australia."
According to court documents, those EXIF-encoded GPS coordinates corresponded with a house in Wantirna, Australia, where they said Ochoa's Australian girlfriend resides. The bureau gleaned that last fact from Ochoa's Facebook page, reported Australia's The Age.
But Ochoa apparently wasn't just tripped up by the pictures of his girlfriend. Another post from the Anonw0rmer Twitter account linked to an image with a screenshot of a computer desktop. "On the desktop are a number of open, running programs with an error message in front of them. There is a window showing Skype running with a username of anonwOrmer logged in. There is another program running called KVIrc version 4. In this window, the username @higochoa is logged in." According to investigators, a Google search for the username "w0rmer" led to two posts to a Visual Basic bulletin board by "Higino (sic) Ochoa aka w0rmer."
The FBI said that via a subpoena of AT&T, it traced one of the law enforcement website attacks back to an IP address associated with a Galveston apartment not occupied by Ochoa. But after conducting surveillance on the property over two days in March, they found that Ochoa was living in the same building. "Due to the proximity of the two addresses, it is likely that Ochoa used his neighbor's unsecured wireless network to perform the intrusion on the Texas Department of Public Safety servers," said FBI special agent Scott Jensen, who's part of the FBI's cyber squad, in court documents.
Put an end to insider theft and accidental data disclosure with network and host controls--and don't forget to keep employees on their toes. Also in the new, all-digital Stop Data Leaks issue of Dark Reading: Why security must be everyone's concern, and lessons learned from the Global Payments breach. (Free registration required.)