Florida private investigator charged for trying to hack charity

Private Eye Charged In Charity Computer Hack
Private Eye Charged In Charity Computer Hack

NEW YORK (Reuters) -- A Florida private investigator is facing criminal charges over his alleged effort to infiltrate a charity's computer network while researching whether nonprofits are financing Islamic militants, U.S. prosecutors said on Monday.

Timothy Sedlak, 42, was charged in a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan for attempting to gain unauthorized access to a computer.

He was arrested on Friday in Ocoee, Florida, where he resides, and was expected to appear in federal court in Orlando later Monday, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara's office said.

A lawyer for Sedlak could not immediately be identified.

According to the complaint, an unidentified global charity headquartered in New York experienced about 390,000 attempts to gain unauthorized access to its computer network from June to July.

The attempted intrusions, which disrupted employees' ability to access email and conduct business, were made by computers associated with two internet protocol addresses subscribed to by Sedlak at his home in Florida, the complaint said.

On LinkedIn, Sedlak lists himself as an investigator with Surveillance Associates, LLC, a Florida company registered in his name. But the complaint said Sedlak did not have a license to work as a private investigator in Florida.

Prosecutors said U.S. Secret Service agents on Friday executed a search warrant at Sedlak's home, seizing among other things, 30 computers and notes related to the charity, one of its executives and a third person publicly linked to it.

The computers contained a list of the charity's employees' email account user names and a so-called "brute force" password-cracking tool designed to launch a barrage of potential passwords at an email account to guess at the correct one.

According to the complaint, Sedlak told the agents he was researching charities to determine if any were unintentionally financing jihadist groups by sending funds to Middle East charities that were then seized by Islamic militants.

Sedlak said he had conducted the research in his role at a private investigator with hopes to sell it, the complaint said.

Asked if he tried to hack any charities, Sedlak told the agents he could not talk about it because it was part of his job, the complaint said.

The case is U.S. v. Sedlak, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 15-mj-3265.

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Originally published