Skip to main content

Nuclear reactor admin arrested for running anti-government hacking ring

A US Navy systems administrator has been arrested on charges of acting as the ringleader of an anti-government hacking group.

Nicholas Knight, who worryingly worked as a sysadmin in the nuclear reactor department of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, has been charged with conspiring to hack into computer systems to steal identities, obstruct justice, and damage a protected computer.

Knight worked alongside a 20-year old Oklahoma college student to carry out hacks on a number of high profile systems, including the Navy, the Department of Homeland Security, the World Health Organization and Harvard University. The two hackers went by the alias "Team Digi7al" and posted links to information they stole on their Twitter account.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) first noticed a breach of their Smart Web Move (SWM) database in June 2012.

This is the database used to manage transfers for 220,000 service members across all branches of the US military, and it stored their personal records, social security numbers, names, and dates of birth.

After the breach, the Navy shut down the system, patched up the damage and paid for identity theft and credit monitoring services for all of its affected employees. The total cost was $514,000 (£303).

"Today's news on Mr. Knight is an alarm bell that every organisation needs to lock down these privileged access points," said Udi Mokady, CEO of Cyber Ark. "The best security approach to controlling these extremely powerful accounts is to make sure that every time one of these accounts are used, it's flagged, logged and recorded."

The US Navy has so far declined to comment.

Back in October, US officials revealed that hackers either working for or on behalf of the Iranian government had infiltrated the largest internal computer network in the world, the The Navy and Marine Corps Intranet (NMCI).

Days later, an Iranian cyber commander was found dead in the city of Karaj.