The former US Department of State man accused of hacking into hundreds of victims’ e-mail and social media accounts, stealing thousands of sexually explicit photographs, and threatening at least 75 victims that he would post those photos and other personal information unless they agreed to his “sextortionate” demands has entered a guilty plea to the nefarious attacks.
Michael C. Ford, 36, of Atlanta, was indicted by a grand jury in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on Aug. 18, 2015, with nine counts of cyberstalking, seven counts of computer hacking to extort and one count of wire fraud.
According to the US Department of Justice, Ford pleaded guilty to all charges and admitted that between January 2013 and May 2015, he used various aliases that included “David Anderson” and “John Parsons” and engaged in a widespread, international computer hacking, cyberstalking and “sextortion” campaign designed to force victims to provide Ford with personal information as well as sexually explicit videos of others. Ford targeted young females, some of whom were students at U.S. colleges and universities, with a particular focus on members of sororities and aspiring models, the DoJ stated.
Ford began the scheme posing as a member of the fictitious “account deletion team” for a well-known e-mail service provider and sent phishing e-mails to thousands of potential victims, warning them that their e-mail accounts would be deleted if they did not provide their passwords. Ford then hacked into hundreds of e-mail and social media accounts using the passwords collected from his phishing scheme, where he searched for sexually explicit photographs. Once Ford located such photos, he then searched for personal identifying information about his victims, including their home and work addresses, school and employment information, and names and contact information of family members, among other things, the DoJ stated.
The DoJ said Ford then used the stolen photos and personal information to engage in an ongoing cyberstalking campaign designed to demand additional sexually explicit material and personal information. Ford e-mailed his victims with their stolen photos attached and threatened to release those photos if they did not cede to his demands. Ford repeatedly demanded that victims take sexually explicit videos of “sexy girls” undressing in changing rooms at pools, gyms and clothing stores, and then send the videos to him.
When the victims refused to comply, threatened to go to the police or begged Ford to leave them alone, Ford responded with additional threats. For example, Ford wrote in one e-mail “don’t worry, it’s not like I know where you live,” then sent another e-mail to the same victim with her home address and threatened to post her photographs to an “escort/hooker website” along with her phone number and home address. Ford later described the victim’s home to her, stating “I like your red fire escape ladder, easy to climb.” Ford followed through with his threats on several occasions, sending his victims’ sexually explicit photographs to family members and friends, the DoJ stated.
In the end, the DoJ says Ford sent thousands of fraudulent phishing email messages to potential victims, successfully hacked into at least 450 online accounts belonging to at least 200 victims, and forwarded to himself at least 1,300 stolen email messages containing thousands of sexually explicit photographs. Ford sent threatening and “sextortionate” online communications to at least 75 victims.
During the time period of his criminal activity, Ford was employed by the U.S. Embassy in London. The majority of Ford’s phishing, hacking and cyberstalking activities were conducted from his computer at the U.S. Embassy.
“The allegations contained in this federal indictment portray an individual consumed with sexually themed cyber-stalking and exploitation as well as an individual who felt he was beyond detection and grasp of authorities,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnson in a statement.
Ford gets a sentencing hearing Feb. 16, 2016.
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