The Washington Post has just revealed that over two-thirds of Washington DC’s public surveillance cameras were commandeered by Romanian hackers just before the inauguration of President Trump last January. The news came out when a federal criminal complaint against the hackers was unsealed on Thursday.
The hackers took over control of 123 of the Washington DC police department’s 187 outdoor surveillance cameras and left them unavailable to record anything during the crucial lead up to the inaugural festivities, badly hampering security preparations.
Two Romanian hackers, Mihai Alexandru Isvanca, 25, and Eveline Cismaru, 28, were indicted on charges of fraud and computer crimes in the case, which was described by a spokesperson for the US Attorney’s office as a crucial priority.
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“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 spokesperson stated.
The two hackers are accused of being part of a larger criminal hacking group that extorted business and individuals through ransomware attacks that would infect computers through email links sent in spam email and then encrypt the contents of their victims’ hard drives until the people paid to regain access to their files.
It is not certain that the perpetrators knew that they were targeting computers controlling police cameras or whether they simply took over any computer owned by someone who clicked their infected links.
The problem with the surveillance cameras was discovered just 8 days before the inauguration when DC police noticed that the cameras weren’t working as they normally would. The force solved the problem by taking all of the cameras offline and restarting them one by one, a laborious two-day process that prevented any footage from being recorded between the 12th and the 15th of January last year. According to the U.S. attorney’s office prosecuting the case, no evidence exists of any realized harm to public safety because of the hack.
The prosecutors in the case are seeking to extradite the Romanians to bring them to trial where they could face up to 20 years in prison if they are found guilty.