On Friday, an 18-year-old British man pleaded guilty to hacking a host of U.S. government officials and systems, including the director of the CIA, local British media reported. For the first time, media was able to name the teen hacker as Kane Gamble, after a gag order expired.
Gamble’s admitted charges also include an overlooked and somewhat ironic target: FBI official Amy Hess. At the time of the hacking campaign in 2015, Hess oversaw the Bureau’s Operational Technology Division (OTD), a unit tasked with deploying the FBI’s top-end spying and hacking capabilities.
Although the indictment doesn’t explicitly mention Gamble’s alleged hacker handle, in 2015 a group calling itself Crackas With Attitude compromised the AOL email account of then CIA head John Brennan before moving onto then Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and other targets.
Crackas With Attitude drew attention, in part, for their bombastic style, taunting their high profile victims on Twitter. They also used an automated service to flood targets’ phones with calls, and broke into a Justice Department database by calling the help desk and pretending to be a fresh employee needing access. That ‘hack’—typically described as a social-engineering attack—led to the public dump of 20,000 FBI and 9,000 DHS employee details. One of the charges Gamble pleaded guilty to related to accessing a Department of Justice system.
Dark-haired Gamble, dressed in a black puffer jacket and hoody, sat at the back of the court room next to his mother during the hearing, according to the Leicester Mercury.
During his bail, Gamble had no restriction on access to computers, the report adds. (This reporter has been in contact with Cracka, the leader of Crackas With Attitude, since Gamble’s arrest.)
Authorities identified members of the group primarily through records obtained from Twitter, including IP addresses, according to U.S. court records. The group planned many of their schemes through direct messages to one another, deciding not to take more security precautions until already well into their campaign.
Two U.S. based members of the group—Justin Liverman, who went by the moniker D3f4ult, and Andrew Boggs, aka Incursio—were sentenced earlier this year. Police arrested Gamble in February 2016, but has not been named until today due to a court order which expired when he turned 18 this week, the Leicester Mercury added.
At Leicester Crown Court, Gamble pleaded guilty to a total of 10 charges. Eight were of “performing a function with intent to secure unauthorised access” to the computers and two of “unauthorised modification of computer material,” the Guardian reported. As well as pleading guilty to the Brennan hack, Gamble also admitted targeting Mark Guiliano, then deputy director of the FBI, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, and several other officials, including OTD’s Hess.
According to the indictment, Gamble targeted Hess between 18th October 2015 and Christmas Day of that year.
Hess joined the FBI in 1991, starting at the Kansas City Field Office, before moving to investigate domestic terrorism at the Louisville Division in 1999. She then rose up the ranks and was assigned to FBI headquarters in 2005. She was named the OTD’s Assistant Director in June 2011.
The FBI’s OTD is the Bureau’s shop for high-tech investigatory tools. Based out of Quantico, Virginia, the unit “develops and deploys technology-based solutions to enable and enhance the FBI’s intelligence, national security, and law enforcement operations,” according to the FBI’s website. Its “customers” include other FBI personnel; federal, state, and local law enforcement; foreign law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Intelligence Community and U.S. Attorneys Offices. The OTD’s tools have been deployed in terrorism, espionage, and child pornography investigations, the website adds.
Indeed, an OTD employee testified during a case related to the FBI’s largest hacking operation to date. The FBI hacked over 8,000 computers in 120 countries, that were suspected of visiting a dark web child pornography site.
“Countering threats through technology,” the OTD’s logo reads.
In a 2015 interview with The Washington Post, then OTD head Hess admitted for the first time that the FBI makes use of so-called zero day exploits: security issues with software or devices that the manufacturer of the product, such as Apple, is not aware of. In that Washington Post report, Chris Soghoian, then principal technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, described Hess as “the queen of domestic surveillance.”
Hess is now Special Agent in Charge of the Louisville field office, according to her LinkedIn profile.
Gamble’s sentencing is scheduled for 15 December, The Guardian reported.