Florida private investigator charged for trying to hack charity

  • TECH
  • Tuesday, 15 Sep 2015

Likely story: A private investigator tried to justify his attempts to hack into a charity by saying he was attempting to find out if they were inadvertently funding Islamic militants.

NEW YORK: A Florida private investigator is facing criminal charges over his alleged effort to infiltrate a charity's computer network while researching whether nonprofits are financing Islamic militants, US prosecutors said. 

Timothy Sedlak, 42, was charged in a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan for attempting to gain unauthorised access to a computer. 

He was arrested on Sept 11 in Ocoee, Florida, where he resides, and was expected to appear in federal court in Orlando on Sept 14, Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara's office said. 

A lawyer for Sedlak could not immediately be identified. 

According to the complaint, an unidentified global charity headquartered in New York experienced about 390,000 attempts to gain unauthorised access to its computer network from June to July. 

The attempted intrusions, which disrupted employees' ability to access e-mail and conduct business, were made by computers associated with two internet protocol addresses subscribed to by Sedlak at his home in Florida, the complaint said. 

On LinkedIn, Sedlak lists himself as an investigator with Surveillance Associates, LLC, a Florida company registered in his name. But the complaint said Sedlak did not have a license to work as a private investigator in Florida. 

Prosecutors said US Secret Service agents on Sept 11 executed a search warrant at Sedlak's home, seizing among other things, 30 computers and notes related to the charity, one of its executives and a third person publicly linked to it. 

The computers contained a list of the charity's employees' e-mail account user names and a so-called "brute force" password-cracking tool designed to launch a barrage of potential passwords at an e-mail account to guess at the correct one. 

According to the complaint, Sedlak told the agents he was researching charities to determine if any were unintentionally financing jihadist groups by sending funds to Middle East charities that were then seized by Islamic militants. 

Sedlak said he had conducted the research in his role at a private investigator with hopes to sell it, the complaint said. 

Asked if he tried to hack any charities, Sedlak told the agents he could not talk about it because it was part of his job, the complaint said. — Reuters 

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