An Ohio man was sentenced last month to six years in prison for a series of DDoS attacks against websites for the city of Akron, Ohio, and the Akron police department.
The man, 33-year-old James Robinson, was arrested in May 2019 and pleaded guilty to all accusations, most of which were easy to prove, as Robinson had publicly documented all the attacks on the @AkronPhoenix420 Twitter profile while they happened.
The account contains a litany of tweets about DDoS attacks Robinson allegedly carried out. Targets included websites for the Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of the Treasury, and NATO. These attacks never caused any mass outages, and two cyber-security firms which provide DDoS mitigation services said they were never aware of his activities until his arrest in 2018.
On Twitter, through the AkronPhoenix420 persona, Robinson always associated with the Anonymous hacker collective, often tagging tweets to suggest they were part of broader attacks — although no evidence has been found to suggest he collaborated with others for coordinated attacks.
But the most frequent target of Robinson’s attacks was the website of his home town, Akron, Ohio — akronohio.gov — and most often, the site’s section for the local police department.
In interrogations following his arrest, Robinson told investigators he had grudges against the city’s police force.
Online, Robinson often tweeted links to a video he uploaded on the Akron Phoenix420 YouTube channel, a video in which he accused Akron police of corruption, stealing drugs from suspects, and extorting and sexually assaulting sex workers.
In court documents, the FBI said that some of Robinson’s DDoS attacks against Akron’s official website were successful, and most notably a series of attacks he carried out in early August 2017 that caused prolonged downtime.
Officials said Robinson used DDoS booter services to rent DDoS botnets for his attacks. According to his Twitter timeline, he began carrying out DDoS attacks in early 2017 and until May 2018, days before his arrest.
Identified due to OpSec failures
The FBI tracked down Robinson after the suspect accessed the AkronPhoenix420 Twitter account on one occasion from his home IP address. He also associated his personal mobile phone number with the same Twitter account, helping authorities confirm his identity.
During a search of his home FBI agents also found a Guy Fawkes mask and a cell phone with a cracked screen similar to a phone seen in photos posted on Twitter.
Following his guilty plea, Robinson was sentenced to six years in prison on October 3, last month. He was also ordered to pay $668,684 in restitution to Akron officials.
Some might argue that six years in prison just for launching DDoS attacks that only caused intermittent downtime for a public website may be excessive; however, US authorities have been historically hard on these types of crimes.
In January this year, they sentenced another Anonymous hacker to even a larger sentence — ten years in prison — for launching DDoS attacks against several Boston hospitals.
Ironically, the operator of eight DDoS booter services that allowed people like Robinson to rent the firepower to carry out these types of attacks only got a 13-month prison sentence.