US District Judge Eleanor Ross sentenced former US State Department official Michael Ford to 57 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to nine counts of cyberstalking, one of wire fraud, and seven of hacking and extortion.
The 36 year-old admitted to widespread sextortion and cyberhacking between January 2013 and May 2015, succeeding in hacking 450 email accounts and 200 social media profiles. He operated from the US Embassy in London and was identified by British law enforcement as sending phishing emails and pretending to reset user account passwords.
“Ford admitted he then used the passwords to hack into at least 450 e-mail and social media accounts belonging to at least 200 victims, where he searched for sexually explicit photographs and for victims’ personal identifying information (PII), including their home and work addresses, school and employment information, and names and contact information of family members, among other things,” according to the US Department of Justice. “Using both the photos and PII, Ford admitted that he then e-mailed at least 75 victims, threatening to release those photos unless they took and sent him sexually explicit videos of “sexy girls” undressing in changing rooms at pools, gyms and clothing stores.”
Collaboration between the Diplomatic Security Service and the FBI allowed authorities to identify, investigate, and prosecute Ford.
“When a public servant in a position of trust commits crimes like cyberstalking and computer hacking on such a large scale, we will vigorously investigate those crimes and ensure they are brought to justice,” said Director Bill A. Miller of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service and Special Agent in Charge J. Britt Johnson of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office. “We hope that this sentence will provide some closure for the victims.”