Threat Management

Systems admin for Navy nuclear department faces hacking charge

A former Navy member, who served as systems administrator in a nuclear reactor department, faces a federal charge for his alleged involvement in a hacking conspiracy.

On Monday, the Department of Justice announced that the Virginia man, Nicholas Knight, was charged with one count of conspiring to hack the computer systems of over 30 public and private entities, while he was an active duty enlisted Navy member.

In addition to Knight, a 20-year-old Illinois man, Daniel Krueger, was also charged with the conspiracy count for his alleged part in the scheme. The DOJ release said that the hacking conspiracy was “part of a plan to steal identities, obstruct justice and damage a protected computer.”

According to DOJ, the two men were a part of a hacking group called “Team Digi7al,” whose targets included the U.S. Navy, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, Stanford University and the Toronto Police Service in Canada, were also allegedly hacked, the release said.

Knight, 27, served as the “self-proclaimed leader and publicist” of the hacker group, while Krueger was a student at an unnamed community college in Illinois, where he studied network administration, the release said. Federal prosecutors claimed that Krueger carried out the technical exploits, including hacking the U.S. Navy's Smart Web Move (SWM) database. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service detected the database breach in June 2012.

“The SWM database stored sensitive personal records, including Social Security numbers, names and dates of birth, for approximately 220,000 service members,” DOJ's release said. The data was stored on servers in Tulsa, Okla.

In a Monday statement, Northern District of Oklahoma U.S. Attorney Danny C. Williams Sr. said that the Navy “quickly identified the breach and tracked down the alleged culprits through their online activity, revealing an extensive computer hacking scheme committed across the country and even abroad.”

Knight, who has since been discharged from the Navy, was assigned to the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman as a systems administrator, at the time of the incidents, prosecutors alleged.

According to the DOJ, data obtained from the hacked organizations was posted online and shared via Team Digi7al's Twitter account.  

Currently, no trial date for the men has been set, but the duo face a maximum prison sentence of five years and a $250,000 fine, if convicted.

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