By Kenneth Lipp
In a press release from the Department of Justice (“Computer Hacker Sentenced For Emailing Bomb Threat To Shopping Mall”) the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania announced:
“David Barnhouse, 24, of Horsham, PA, was sentenced, on October 16, 2014, to 18 months in prison for hacking into his neighbor’s wireless router and using it to post a bomb threat on the website of the Willow Grove Park Mall.”
The bomb threat, sent via email, threatened to set off an explosive in the mall unless some pretty demanding conditions were met:
We have planted an explosive device somewhere in the mall, and will detonate it unless all members of the Islamic faith imprisoned in the United States are freed by 7pm on June 23. Even if you search the mall for 72 consecutive hours, you will NEVER find it.
The FBI eventually traced the email to Barnhouse’s neighbor and executed a search warrant on their house (the press release notes: the practice of making such false reports to bring police action against someone’s house is colloquially known as “swatting” – after the SWAT teams that law enforcement often uses to deal with such situations). After conducting a search of their home and interviewing the neighbors, FBI agents concluded that they did not send the bomb threat.
Prosecutors said that Barnhouse became the target of their investigation into the incident when they learned that he “used encryption on his computer to make its contents unreadable without knowing the encryption key, or password.” The original indictment alleges that when agents returned in November 2013 to search Barnhouse’s home, Barnhouse “tried to activate encryption by unplugging his computer and, during that attempt, fought and struggled with agents and was able to unplug his computer, thereby activating the encryption.”
In addition to the prison term, U.S. District Court Judge C. Darnell Jones, II ordered three years of supervised release and restitution to the mall, which says it incurred increased security costs as a result of Barnhouse’s threat.