Two Romanian nationals have been charged with hacking police computers linked to surveillance cameras in Washington, DC in January after US prosecutors uncovered evidence of a suspected ransomware campaign.
Some 123 of the city’s 187 outdoor surveillance cameras were accessed in the hack which took place between January 9-12, just days before the inauguration of president Donald Trump on January 20. The accused, Mihai Alexandru Iscanva, 25, and Eveline Cismaru, 28, were arrested at Bucharest Otopeni airport December 15.
According to the US statement, Isvanca is currently in custody in Romania, whereas and Cismaru is currently under house arrest pending further legal proceedings. An affidavit filed by US Secret Service agent James Graham outlines how investigators identified two types of “malicious computer code” on police computers, one known as “cerber” and the other known as “dharma.”
The US Department of Justice said the case was “of the highest priority” because of the security surrounding the presidential inauguration.
“This case was of the highest priority due to its impact on the Secret Service’s protective mission and its potential effect on the security plan for the 2017 Presidential Inauguration,” the Justice Department said in a statement cited by Reuters.
The perpetrators intended to use the camera computers to send ransomware to more than 179,600 email addresses and extort money from victims, the justice department said in the statement.
“Both defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit various forms of computer fraud,” said the US Department of Justice (DoJ).
There was no evidence that the alleged hackers had physically harmed or threatened anyone, the US statement added.
US officials say they linked email accounts accessed on the compromised computers to Isvanca and Cismaru. The pair is accused of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
If proven, this will not be the first time that criminal gangs have targetted and utilised CCTV systems for ransomware or DDoS attacks.