FBI Arrest Man Over ‘Plot To Blow Up Internet’

A US man has been arrested after allegedly mounting a plot to blow up an Amazon Web Services (AWS) data centre in Virginia in an act that he believed would “kill off about 70 percent of the internet”.

Seth Aaron Pendley, 28, of Wichita Falls in northern Texas, allegedly thought his actions would help to take down the “oligarchy” running the United States.

Pendley was arrested late last week following a sting operation by the FBI in Fort Worth.

The US Justice Department said it was contacted in January by a “concerned citizen” regarding “alarming statements” posted on MyMilitia.com, a site dedicated to organising militia groups.

‘Death’

An individual with the username “Dionysus” stated he was planning to “conduct a little experiment”, which he said would “draw a lot of heat” and could be “dangerous.”

When another user asked what outcome Dionysus desired, he responded, “death”.

The FBI obtained the individual’s email address and linked it to his real identity.

Pendley’s Facebook profile showed he had boasted of being present at the US Capitol on 6 January, the day of the Capitol riot and two days before the FBI tip-off.

In private messages he allegedly told friends he did not enter the Capitol building, but reached the upper platform of the stairway, swiped a piece of glass from a broken window and interacted with police.

He said he brought a sawed-off assault rifle to Washington, D.C. but left the weapon in his car.

In late January Pendley used Signal to communicate via encrypted messages with another person – actually an FBI informant – about buying C-4 plastic explosive to attack an AWS facility comprised of a cluster of three data centres.

Explosive plot

On 31 March the source introduced Pendley to a person he claimed was his explosives supplier, actually an undercover FBI employee.

In recorded conversations, Pendley allegedly told the agent he planned to attack web servers used by the FBI, the CIA and other federal agencies.

On 8 April Pendley met with the FBI agent again to pick up what he believed to be explosive devices, and were in fact inert units.

After the agent showed Pendley how to arm and detonate the devices, Pendley loaded them into his car, after which he was arrested by FBI agents monitoring the scene.

The Justice Departent said investigators who searched Pendley’s house found hand-drawn maps, notes and flashcards relating to the planned attack, as well as masks, wigs, a pistol painted to look like a toy gun and a machete with “Dionysus” written on the blade.

Infrastructure risk

Pendley was charged via a criminal complaint and made his initial appearance in a federal court late last week. If convicted he faces up to 20 years in federal prison.

“We are indebted to the concerned citizen who came forward to report the defendant’s alarming online rhetoric,” said acting US Attorney Perek Shah.

Outages at key internet facilities have in the past had a disproportionate effect on a wide number of sites, such as a major March 2017 AWS fault that knocked sites such as Quora and Trello offline.

However, such disruptions rarely last more than a few hours, and in most cases are of far shorter duration.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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