Ottawa’s ‘Catch me if you can’ hacker Guilty in Swatting case; Anonymous didn’t Frame him, Judge says
He’s the Ottawa hacker who liked to brag at school about his online powers, the ones he abused.
Out of twisted revenge for his own troubles at school, the 16-year-old boy launched a dark online campaign in 2014, first by calling in a fake bomb threat at his own school, and then beyond.
And he made time to taunt police on Twitter, saying “Catch me if you can.”
Well, they did.
On Friday, the Barrhaven teen who terrorized children by calling in fake bomb threats at schools across Canada and the United States was convicted of the swatting crimes.
Ontario Court Justice Mitch Hoffman found the teen guilty on 34 counts (from public mischief to uttering threats) related to a series of fake bomb calls that prompted SWAT teams to respond to schools from Calgary to Florida.
The boy used a Twitter account to advertise his swatter-for-hire services, and business was brisk, with troubled teens enlisting him to call in bomb threats to their schools.
A 14-year-old Ontario boy enlisted the hacker to call in a bomb threat at his school because he wanted to be cool. He felt anything but cool when detectives came calling, and he promptly gave a tearful confession.
In some cases, the Barrhaven hacker would give advance warning on Twitter and later claim responsibility.
The judge-alone trial that began in 2015 also heard a Quebec boy who used the hacker’s swatter-for-hire services also confessed on the spot and later pleaded guilty for enlisting him to call in a bomb threat to his Laval high school.
The judge also rejected the boy’s cover story, in which he claimed he had been framed by Anonymous, the international hacktivist collective.
The judge said Anonymous may have methods that some disagree with, but the hacktivist group is known for its justice crusades and political goals, and was certainly not in the business of framing “innocent persons and terrorizing schoolchildren.”
The judge also said there was no evidence “in real life, nor online” to suggest, even “theoretically” that the teen had been framed.
“It is not a rational deduction that the (teen) was framed,” Hoffman told court in a day-long reading of his verdict in the high-profile case.
The judge also rejected the defence-raised suggestion that a third-party could have planted the evidence on the boy’s computer that police seized. The judge noted the boy is a “sophisticated computer user” who was frequently online and known for stocking up on anti-virus software. It would be implausible for this to go undetected, he said. The judge also rejected that a third-party suspect could have remotely accessed the boy’s computer through a Trojan program.
In all of the fake calls to police, court heard, the accused mostly disguised his voice. But in one call, the accused is plainly heard as himself.
The Barrhaven hacker was also convicted for calling in a fake bomb threat to a Quebec shopping mall.
The judge praised Ottawa police detectives for an exhaustive investigation, which included analysis of more than 200,000 Skype and chat logs on the boy’s computer.
Assistant Crown attorney Kerry McVey led the successful prosecution against the teen who still has outstanding warrants in Florida.
Some of the hacker’s targets — including an Ottawa teen — were wrongly arrested after he spoofed their online identity to make it look like they were the ones who had called in the threat. The Ottawa teen was later released.
The boy — whose identity is shielded by law — was arrested by Ottawa police in 2014 after the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation traced his IP address to his parents’ home in Barrhaven and forwarded the information, court heard.
The boy, represented by defence lawyer Joshua Clarke, was acquitted on four counts related to swatting calls in California.
The teen awaits sentencing.