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Canadian man charged with crimes related to 2018 cyberattack on Alaska state computer

Published: Dec. 7, 2021 at 2:13 PM AKST|Updated: Dec. 7, 2021 at 7:51 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - A Canadian man is facing cyberattack charges for allegedly attacking a computer belonging to the state of Alaska.

According to a release from the U.S. Department of Justice District of Alaska, 31-year-old Matthew Philbert of Ottawa, Canada, was charged with cyberattack crimes — one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and related activity in connection with computers and one count of fraud and related activity in connection with computers — following an incident in April 2018. Philbert was arrested Nov. 30 by Ontario Provincial Police.

The release alleges that Philbert damaged a computer belonging to the state in 2018 in acts that Canadian authorities deemed cybercrime charges as part of a separate investigation. The release says that court documents show Philbert conspired with others “known and unknown” to damage computers, including the one belonging to Alaska.

According to Clinton Bennett, communications director for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, the cyberattack in 2018 did result in a HIPPA and Alaska Personal Information Protection Act breach that might have disclosed personal information of individuals who had interacted with the state’s Division of Public Assistance.

“At the time the attack was discovered, DHSS took immediate action to mitigate further access to the infected computer,” Bennett wrote in an email Tuesday.

He said, due to the fact that there’s pending litigation, the health department will not be sharing more details at this time.

“We are grateful to the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our Canadian law enforcement partners for their work so far on this case and for working to protect cybersecurity,” said department Commissioner Adam Crum in a statement sent by Bennett.

“Cyber criminals are exploiting us at the seams,” said the FBI’s Brian Abellera, assigned to Canada, during a virtual announcement of the charges. “And targeting U.S. and Canadian critical infrastructure businesses, and victims.”

The statement came during Tuesday’s online announcement hosted by the Ontario Provincial Police.

The Ontario Provincial Police said the FBI contacted the agency in January 2020 regarding cyberattacks that originated in Canada. The Ontario Provincial Police said hackers did not just target Americans with email attachments infected with viruses.

“The unauthorized access provided the suspects with the ability to monitor their computer, view their web camera, collect user names, passwords, and log-in credentials,” said Ontario Provincial Police Deputy Inspector Matt Watson.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors are not surprised it’s taken until now to announce Philbert’s arrest.

“It does take often times a significant amount of time for that to happen,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Alexander, based in Alaska. “But at the end of the day, individuals who think they might not be subject to American prosecution, do end up being surprised when an FBI agent, even overseas, ends up knocking on their door.”

The charges against Philbert were unsealed on Tuesday. He remains in the custody of the Ontario Provincial Police. There’s no word when he could be sent to Alaska to stand trial.

Also in 2018, there were cyberattacks that crippled government computers in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and the city of Valdez.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.

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