Former Amazon engineer convicted in 2019 Capital One data breach

·Contributing Reporter
·2-min read
Bill Tompkins via Getty Images

A Seattle jury has found Paige Thompson, a former Amazon software engineer accused of stealing data from Capital One in 2019, guilty of wire fraud and five counts of unauthorized access to a protected computer. The Capital One hack was one of the biggest security breaches in the US and compromised the data of 100 million people in the country, along with 6 million people in Canada. Thompson was arrested in July that year after a GitHub user saw her post on the website sharing information about stealing data from servers storing Capital One information.

According to the Department of Justice, Thompson used a tool she built herself to scan Amazon Web Services for misconfigured accounts. She then allegedly used those accounts to infiltrate Capital One's servers and download over 100 million people's data. The jury has decided that Thompson violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act by doing so, but her lawyers argued that she used the same tools and method also used by ethical hackers.

The Justice Department recently amended the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to protect ethical or white hat hackers. As long as researchers are investigating or fixing vulnerabilities in "good faith" and aren't using the security holes they discover for extortion or other malicious purposes, they can no longer be charged under the law.

US authorities, however, disagreed with the assertion that she was only trying to expose Capital One's vulnerabilities. The Justice Department said she planted cryptocurrency mining software onto the bank's servers and sent the earnings straight to her digital wallet. She also allegedly bragged about the hack on online forums.

"Far from being an ethical hacker trying to help companies with their computer security, she exploited mistakes to steal valuable data and sought to enrich herself," US Attorney Nick Brown said. Thompson could be sentenced with up to 20 years of prison time for wire fraud and up to five years for each charge of illegally accessing a protected computer. Her sentencing hearing is scheduled for September 15th.

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