Hacker faces jail time after defacing US military academy, NYC sites

Over 11,000 websites of political or business value to the US were targeted.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

A man from California has pled guilty to hacking military and government websites in a defacement campaign linked to Gaza's political situation.

Billy Ribeiro Anderson, also known as "Anderson Albuquerque" and "AlfabetoVirtual," pled guilty to two felony counts of computer fraud in a court in the Southern District of New York.

According to US prosecutors, from 2015 -- 2018, the 41-year-old went on a defacement spree by illegally accessing over 11,000 US military, government, and business websites.

Under the moniker AlfabetoVirtual, the hacker replaced content on each website with his own scrawling, including posting the text "Hacked by AlfabetoVirtual," "#FREEPALESTINE" and "#FREEGAZA."

These messages relate to the political situation between Palestine, Israel, and the besieged Gaza strip. The Free Gaza Movement has been operating since 2008 and is made up of human rights activists and pro-Palestinian groups.

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Two cases of defacement of particular note are the compromise of the NYC's Comptroller domain in 2015 and an attack in 2016 against a website for the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point.

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In the first case, Anderson exploited vulnerabilities in a third-party plugin used by the website. In the latter, the hacker was able to exploit a cross-site scripting (XSS) flaw to compromise an administrator account and bypass access controls.

Law enforcement said on Tuesday that not only was Anderson responsible for widespread website defacement, but he was also able to compromise thousands of web servers worldwide. The hacker installed malware on these servers in order to maintain persistence and created backdoors in the systems, granting himself administrative rights in the process.

Anderson faces up to 10 years in prison under the charges. Sentencing has been scheduled and is due to take place in February 2019.

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"Billy Anderson hacked the websites of the New York City Comptroller and West Point, one of the most prestigious military academies in the world," US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said. "He has now pled guilty to those crimes and faces time in federal prison. This case demonstrates that those who seek to commit cyber intrusions of government websites will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

In May, US law enforcement prosecuted the operator of Scan4You, an online service used by cybercriminals to test their code and thwart antivirus solution protections.

The 37-year-old was charged for running the service, which was used in an attack -- possibly against US retailer Target -- that resulted in the theft of roughly 40 million credit and debit card numbers, 70 million addresses, phone numbers, and other personally identifiable information (PII) from US citizens.

Four months later, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) charged a 28-year-old Latvian with hacking PCs and surveillance cameras connected to the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).

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