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Man infects college PCs to steal huge database

Uni president targeted in brazen attack

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A former college student has admitted taking part in a criminal scheme that used malware to steal and sell large databases of faculty and alumni, change grades, and siphon funds from other students' accounts.

Daniel J. Fowler, 21, of Kansas City, Missouri, pleaded guilty in federal court there to computer hacking conspiracy and computer intrusion, according to prosecutors. Charges against Fowler's alleged accomplice, 27-year-old Joseph A. Camp, are pending, according to court documents, which indicate his trial is scheduled for October 24. Camp has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

According to an indictment filed in November, Fowler and Camp developed malware and installed it on the computers of students, faculty and staff at the University of Central Missouri using a variety of strategies. Ruses included the offer to show vacation photos contained on a thumb drive and manually installing it on public PCs. The malware contained a backdoor that allowed them to capture passwords used to access restricted parts of the university network and to spy on computer users through their webcams.

Prosecutors said the duo managed to install the malware on at least one university administrator's computer and also succeeded in stealing the login credentials of a residence hall director. Eventually, they used their unauthorized access to conduct fraudulent financial transactions in which they transferred funds into accounts they controlled. They also attempted to sell a database of personal information they stole, according to court documents.

They also attempted to change grades, prosecutors said

In one of the most brazen attempts, Camp is accused of approaching an administrative assistant in the office of the university's president and handing her a thumb drive that stored the malicious software. Camp then said the drive contained documents from his attorney that he wanted the president to see and instructed her to insert it into her computer. The assistant refused.

Even after their arrest by campus police, the conspiracy continued, prosecutors allege. After learning a trusted colleague turned on him, Fowler posted a message to Facebook threatening that the informant would “suffer the media attention” once a trial was underway. Fowler later told someone he trusted he posted the message "to scare the girl that talked."

Camp, for his part, told an accomplice “the cops were dumb to bust us so quick” and “if they knew the scope of this, they would have involved the feds,” according to the indictment.

When they were apprehended, authorities found Camp in possession of the Spector Pro and Poison Ivy keylogging programs and the username and password of a pilfered university staff member written on a piece of paper in his pocket, prosecutors said.

Fowler faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison without parole, a fine of $500,000, and an order to pay restitution. A sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.

A PDF of the indictment is here. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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