DC Police Cameras Hacked Before Trump Inauguration. Defendants Plead Guilty

Gavin Hanson | Contributor

A hacker who reportedly hijacked roughly two-thirds of the 187 Metropolitan Police Department’s outdoor surveillance cameras in January 2017, days before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, pleaded guilty.

Police could not access a vast majority of their own visual surveillance network amid the protests and preparations for the swearng-in of the president, according to the DOJ.

Two Romanian hackers attempted to use U.S. government servers to infect 179,616 accounts with ransomware between Jan. 9 and 12. In the process, the pair was successful in locking 126 Metro D.C. Police (MPD) computers and issuing demands for nearly $500 dollars in Bitcoin from each machine, $60,800 in total from government systems.

The hackers, Eveline Cismaru, 28, and Mihai Alexandru Isvanca, 25, were originally arrested attempting to flee to London on Dec. 15. Cismaru appealed her extradition and managed to elude authorities while escaping house arrest to England until being caught in July. Upon her apprehension a statement signed by Cismaru and prosecutors claimed  “‘99%’ of what she knows about computer crime and computer credit card fraud [is] from Isvanca.”

Cismaru pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit computer fraud Thursday after a manhunt concluded with her extradition from the UK. The maximum penalty for her crimes are 25 years in prison, total, but leniency is expected because the timing of the attack, reportedly, was coincidental. Her sentencing is scheduled for December of 2018. Her co-conspirator, Isvanca, who has not yet gone to trial, remains behind bars in Romania awaiting extradition.

No money was given to the hackers by any U.S. government official or police department employee, and the MPD’s chief technology office was able to quickly wrestle control of their systems back from the malicious code. The Washington Post reported shortly after the attack that the ransomware compromised 70 percent of camera data storage devices and forced citywide re-installation. (RELATED: Ford Is Teaming Up With Lyft For Future Of Driving)

The malware spread through usernames, passwords, and banking information collected by the hackers, displaying the message: “Your documents, photos, databases and other important files have been encrypted!” on compromised computers.

Although the exploit used to gain access to law enforcement devices was not released, the hack came in the same time period as other notable 2017 ransomware attacks, “WannaCry” and “NOTPetya,” which scourged official and private servers across Europe.

Officials say the attack interfered with the Secret Service’s security plans for the inauguration but an investigation of the highest priority was immediately launched and control of the security cameras was regained before it could hinder the overall plan for the security of the 2017 inauguration.

“The investigation revealed no evidence that any person’s physical security was threatened or harmed due to the disruption of the MPD surveillance cameras,” according to the D.C. U.S. attorney’s Office.

The investigation and rebuff of the cyber-attack was led by the Secret Service in cooperation with MPD, the FBI and authorities from the UK, The Netherlands, Romania, and Europol. Authorities contacted internet users who’s information might have been compromised by the hackers and no threats from the attack remain.

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