Friday, 22 Feb 2019

Two hackers charged with Minecraft-linked bomb threats that led to school evacuations

Two alleged hackers in Southern California have been arrested and charged with multiple offenses following widespread Minecraft-related hoaxes that led to hundreds of schools in the UK and US being evacuated over false bomb threats.

Timothy Dalton Vaughn and George Duke-Cohan, otherwise known by their respective hacker aliases “wantedbyfeds” and “DigitalCrimes,” were charged on February 8th with hacking crimes, conspiracy, and “interstate threats involving explosives,” referring to the numerous bomb threats sent to different schools. Court documents claim that Vaughn and Duke-Cohan, acting within a hacker organization known as Apophis Squad, coordinated a series of “bomb and school-shooting threats designed to cause fear of imminent danger and did cause the closure of hundreds of schools on two continents on multiple occasions.”

Reports of Vaughn and Duke-Cohan’s actions first sprung up in March 2018. Emails were sent out to schools, forcing evacuations, but a statement from the Northumbria Police in the United Kingdom confirmed it was a hoax that traced back to the United States.

“Detectives have looked into the emails — which appear to originate from the US — and can confirm that there is no viable threat,” the department wrote on Twitter.

Sky News later reported that the emails were “spoofed” in an attempt to get the domain for VeltPvP, a popular Minecraft server, suspended. Prosecutors allege that Apophis Squad also used the emails to make it sound like the threats were coming from the Mayor of London and Zonix, a client often used for Minecraft, alongside VeltPvP. Vaughan and Duke-Cohen used Discord servers and IRC rooms with other members of the Apophis Squad, according to court documents, to coordinate emails to various schools.

Threats were sent over the course of several months, with numerous incidents mentioned in court filings. Apophis Squad would use Twitter to ask people who wanted a day off school to send the hacker squad cash, and would send out a hoax email in response. On April 28th, 2018, Duke-Cohen tweeted under the Apophis Squad Twitter handle that they were “planning to hit as many schools as possible on Monday.”

“We hope anyone that just wants to have a day off or get out of that math test you have! will email us any schools,” Duke-Cohen tweeted, according to documents. “We are working hard on getting 100K emails.”