Felony hacking charges were handed down Wednesday to a Massachusetts man accused of disrupting the computer networks of Boston-area hospitals with a 2014 digital protest waged under the name of hacktivist group Anonymous.
Martin Gottesfeld, 32, was indicted by a grand jury Wednesday on one count each of computer hacking and conspiracy related to distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks suffered by Boston Children’s Hospital and the Wayside Youth and Family Support Network, a residential treatment facility in nearby Framingham.
Mr. Gottesfeld was arrested in February, and has been held at a detention center in Rhode Island for the last eight months while investigators assembled their case. He’ll likely plead not guilty when formally arraigned next week before U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne B. Bowler, his wife, Dana Gottesfeld, told The Washington Times on Thursday. The charges each carry a maximum prison sentence of five years apiece.
Prosecutors say Mr. Gottesfeld plotted and participated in a cyber campaign against facilities he perceived to be part of “the troubled teen industry,” or institutions involved in the the treatment of adolescents with serious emotional, psychological and medical problems.
By overloading their computer networks with illegitimate internet traffic, authorities say the self-described human rights activist caused the facilities’ systems to suffer from setbacks that disrupted operations and resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses and damages.
Investigators say Mr. Gottesfeld led DDoS attacks in March 2014 that “lasted for more than a week, crippled Wayside’s website during that time and caused it to spend more than $18,000 on response and mitigation efforts.”
A subsequent campaign launched against Children’s is described in charging documents as “particularly disruptive,” and reportedly caused the hospital to lose upwards of $600,000.
The hospital said it spent around $300,000 responding to the DDoS attack, but also lost approximately $300,000 because its systems were knocked offline in the midst of a fundraiser.
The FBI had already interviewed Mr. Gottesfeld about the DDoS attacks and made it clear he was under investigation when he and his wife suddenly went missing earlier this year. The couple was eventually rescued in the the Bahamas by a Disney cruise ship in February, and law enforcement filed a criminal complaint charging Mr. Gottesfeld with conspiracy to commit computer hacking while the two were being brought back to land.
Writing while in custody last month, Mr. Gottesfeldadmitted waging DDoS attacks in response to the alleged mistreatment suffered by a 15-year-old patient, Justina Pelletier. Now 17, her parents have since sued Boston Children’s Hospital and four of its doctors for claims including gross negligence and civil rights violations.
“I had heard many, too many, such horror stories of institutionalized children who were killed or took their own lives in the so-called ‘troubled teen industry.’ I never imagined a renowned hospital would be capable of such brutality and no amount of other good work could justify torturing Justina,” he wrote for Huffington Post last month.
“Justina wasn’t defenseless. Under the banner of Anonymous, she and other institutionalized children could and would be protected,” he wrote in an op-ed titled “Why I Knocked Boston Children’s Hospital Off The Internet.”
In addition to his admission in the press, investigators said they found hundreds of private Twitter messages on Mr. Gottesfeld’s computer in which he allegedly plotted DDoS attacks with an unindicted co-conspirator, as well as other digital evidence linking him to the disruptions.
Evidence aside, Mr. Gottesfeld has been protesting his prosecution while in detention, and was on the sixteenth day of a hunger strike when Wednesday’s indictment was handed down.
Facing the same federal prosecutor’s office responsible for pursuing a pair of particularly notable hacking cases, Mr. Gottesfeld has been forgoing food in an effort to raise awareness about both the “troubled teen industry” as well as U.S. Attorney Carmen Otiz’s handling of alleged computer crimes.
“The fact that Ortiz’s office indicted on debate day, and without a press release, shows they are aware of the unconscionable human rights violations they are attempting to sweep under the rug and the precedence of impunity that would be even more firmly established,” Mr. Gottesfeld said Thursday in an email shared by his wife with The Washington Times. “They have no compassion for the suffering of Justina Pelletier, a mentally and physically challenged child, ripped from her family, left in agony without her painkillers, and locked in an abusive psych ward. Nor are they concerned with any real semblance of true justice.”
“This indictment, and the manner in which it was unsealed, were cowardly acts,” he said.
Internet activist Aaron Swartz was facing charges related to multiple alleged violations of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act brought by Ms. Ortiz’s office when he committed suicide in 2013. Five years earlier, hacker Jonathan James took his own life while being investigated by the same prosecutor’s office in the District of Massachusetts.
The Department of Justice did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday.