Two Romanian hackers took control of hundreds of outdoor surveillance cameras days before newly elected president Donald Trump gave his inaugural speech in Washington D.C.
A federal criminal complaint says the pair gained control of 123 of the D.C. police department’s 187 cameras as authorities were preparing for the year’s biggest national security event. The hackers, Mihai Alexandru Isvanca, 25, and Eveline Cismaru, 28, are said to be part of a larger extortionist group.
After gaining control of the cameras, they began to spread ransomware to a list of 179,600 email addresses, according to the Justice Department. Ransomware is a virus that locks a device and denies access to the owner until a specific amount is paid to the attacker behind its distribution. Typically, hackers steal all the files on the device and encrypt them so they can ransom the victim for the decryption key. No ransoms were reportedly paid in this incident.
The only way D.C. officials were able to regain control of their network of cameras was to shut them all down, remove all their software, then individually restart them at each site, a fix that took two days to complete. During that time, no cameras were able to record video. The Secret Service was able to see the computers as they accessed email addresses and link them back to Isvanca and Cismaru.
There was no evidence that the alleged hackers physically harmed or threatened anyone’s safety, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“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,” Bill Miller, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu, told the Washington Post.
The hackers were arrested at the Bucharest Henri Coand? Airport on Dec. 15 and will be prosecuted in Europe. They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of wire fraud.