A member of the Anonymous hacker collective was found guilty this week in a trial for a series of cyber-attacks the man had conducted in 2014, including some aimed at children’s hospitals.
The hacker —Martin Gottesfeld, 32, of Sommerville, Massachusetts— was one of the main driving forces behind the #OpJustina Anonymous campaign.
The controversial case of Justina Pelletier
According to court documents obtained by Bleeping Computer, Gottesfeld learned about the case of Justina Pelletier, a young child that was at the center of a nationwide controversy.
According to reports in local US media, the staff at the Boston Children’s Hospital had taken Justina from her parents after finding bruises on her body and thinking she was a victim of parental abuse.
During the ensuing legal battle, in which Child Services got involved, the child was separated from her parents and sent to Wayside Youth and Family Support Network, a nonprofit, Framingham-based residential treatment facility that provides a range of mental health counseling and family support services to children, young adults, and families in Massachusetts.
The girl was eventually reunited with her family a year later, in 2014, after it was discovered that Boston Children’s Hospital doctors and staff had misdiagnosed Justina, who was suffering from a mitochondrial disease, which caused the marks on her body, and not because of physical abuse as initially thought.
Gottesfeld participated in #OpJustina
But before the custody battle clarified, Gottesfeld and other Anonymous hackers decided to take matters into their own hands by starting #OpJustina and launching cyber-attacks against the Wayside facility in March 2014, and the Boston Children’s Hospital in April, the same year.
This campaign involved the publishing of a #OpJustina manifesto on Pastebin and a video on YouTube, calling for cyber-attacks against the Boston Children’s Hospital.
Anonymous members, Gottesfeld included, followed suite on their threats. DDoS attacks crippled Wayside’s network for a week, causing $18,000 in damages, but they did more damage to the Boston Children’s Hospital.
US law enforcement says Gottesfeld was behind DDoS attacks against the Boston hospital on April 19, 2014, when he used a botnet of over 40,000 routers to knock the hospital off the Internet.
The attack was so powerful that it not only knocked the Boston Children’s Hospital offline but also nearby hospitals in the Longwood Medical Area.
Authorities said the DDoS attack disrupted the Boston hospital’s day-to-day operations, as well as its research capabilities. The attack caused damages that took more than $300,000 to repair, but also caused revenue losses of around $300,000 due to lost donations after the hospital’s fundraising portal was also taken offline. The hospital needed around two weeks to fully come back online.
Investigators said they tied Gottesfeld to the Anonymous #OpJustina YouTube video he uploaded online. They searched his house in October 2014 but did not arrest him.
Gottesfeld try to flee to Cuba
Fearing an incoming arrest, Gottesfeld and his wife left their Sommerville home in February 2016 without informing authorities or family members. The two rented a boat in Florida with the intention of fleeing to Cuba.
Meanwhile, local law enforcement became aware of their disappearance after family members called police when they couldn’t get in touch with the couple.
But the boat trip didn’t go as planned, as they needed rescue during their trip. A Disney cruise ship responded to their SOS call and returned the couple to Miami, where they were arrested.
Gottesfeld legal case gets messy
Authorities formally charged Gottesfeld for the DDoS attacks in October 2016, the same month he penned an op-ed in the Huffington Post explaining the reasons for the cyber-attacks.
The case got off to a rocky start after Gottesfeld legal team and family protested US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, who was in charge of the case. Ortiz is the prosecutor that went after Internet activist Aaron Swartz in 2013 and hacker Jonathan James in 2008. Both suspects committed suicide while under investigation, and Swartz’s family blamed Ortiz for her aggressive style and over-criminalization of Swartz’s actions.
“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,” Gottesfeld wrote in an email to the Washington Times in October 2016. “This indictment, and the manner in which it was unsealed, were cowardly acts.”
Gottesfeld tried to protest the prosecutor’s assignment by entering a hunger strike, losing about 8 pounds (3.6 Kgs), according to a Newsweek report. He later claimed he was put in solitary confinement as a punishment for starting the hunger strike.
Regardless, the trial went as planned. This week, Gottesfeld was convicted on one count of conspiracy to damage protected computers and one count of damaging protected computers.
The charge of conspiracy provides for a sentence of no greater than five years in prison, three years of supervised release, a fine of $250,000 and restitution. The charge of damaging protected computers provides for a sentence of no greater than ten years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of up to $250,000. Gottesfeld’s sentencing is scheduled for November 14, 2018.