Cyber-Criminal Fined $300,000 for Pipeline Attacks

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A man from New Hampshire has been fined nearly $300,000 after admitting his role in cyber-attacks targeting the construction of a 1,172-mile-long pipeline spanning three American states. 

Joseph Earl Thomas Aubut of Conway confessed to being part of a hacking group that launched a series of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks in 2016 in an attempt to prevent the Dakota Access Pipeline from being built. 

Construction of the $3.78bn pipeline that passes under Lake Oahe began in June 2016, and its first oil was delivered in May 2017. In 2016, protests over the pipeline's impact on the environment and on sacred indigenous sites resulted in the largest gathering of Native Americans in the past hundred years. 

According to records filed in the United States District Court in Concord, Aubut and other members of the hacker-collective Anonymous targeted an unnamed company based in Houston, Texas, with cyber-attacks. 

In 2016, Anonymous began Operation No Dakota Access Pipeline (OpNoDAPL), launching a series of DDoS attacks, posting personal details of people involved with the pipeline project, and threatening their families and employees if construction wasn't halted.

“We decided to stand with the Native Americans whose land you raped, whose sacred lands you destroyed,” said Anonymous in a 2016 video message to North Dakota's governor. “We know where you live. Everyone you know. And everything there is to know about you.”

Court documents state that Walmart clerk Aubut began recruiting members of Anonymous in the summer of 2016 to attack the unnamed company with DDoS attacks that used malware to overwhelm the victim's website with large volumes of traffic. 

Aubut reportedly made YouTube videos, posted under the pseudonym Sergeant Anonymous, to attract cyber-criminals to carry out the attacks. He also threatened to dox (publicly reveal the personal data) of at least one executive who worked at the victim company, the governor of North Dakota, and a law enforcement officer. 

Aubut pleaded guilty to federal charges, including one count of conspiracy to transmit information that damages a protected computer. He was ordered to pay $299,000 restitution to the victim company that hired consultants and invested in cyber-security in order to thwart the attacks.

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