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The FBI has arrested a Tennessee man on computer crime charges, claiming he is a key player in the NullCrew hacking squad that attacked businesses and educational institutions from 2012 onwards.

Court filings claim Timothy Justin French, 20, is known online as "Orbit", and took part in hacking attacks against two US universities and three telecommunications and media companies in the US and Canada that were carried out by members of the NullCrew team.

NullCrew came to the attention of the authorities in 2012 after a successful attack against the World Health Organization and PBS, which resulted in email addresses and passwords being posted online on Pastebin.

The group, thought to be an offshoot of the Anonymous hacking collective, has since carried out a number of similar attacks, including a successful intrusion into serves run by the Department of Homeland Security last year.

According to the FBI, a "confidential witness" engaged members of the NullCrew team in conversation on Skype, Twitter, and the encrypted messaging system Cryptocat, and won their trust. These conversations included discussions on past and future attacks and the sharing of vulnerabilities used in the attacks.

Based on this information, the FBI tracked the IP address of one of the computers used in five attacks as well as during online attacks with the Fed's stool pigeon, and linked it to French's address in Tennessee. He was arrested without incident and is being held in custody ahead of charges, which will be filed in Chicago.

"Cyber crime sometimes involves new-age technology but age-old criminal activity ― unlawful intrusion, theft of confidential information, and financial harm to victims," said Zachary Fardon, US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, in a statement.

"Hackers who think they can anonymously steal private business and personal information from computer systems should be aware that we are determined to find them, to prosecute pernicious online activity, and to protect cyber victims," Fardon said.

If convicted, French faces up to ten years in prison and $250,000 in fines. ®

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