US charges Swiss 'hacktivist' for data theft and leaks

FILE - In this March 4, 2020 file photo, a security camera is shown on the second floor of a row of rooms at a motel in Kent, Wash.  Hackers aiming to call attention to the dangers of mass surveillance said they were able to peer into hospitals, schools, factories, jails and corporate offices after they broke into the systems of a security-camera startup. That California startup, Verkada, said Wednesday, March 10, 2021,  it is investigating the scope of the breach, first reported by Bloomberg, and has notified law enforcement and its customers. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
FILE - In this March 4, 2020 file photo, a security camera is shown on the second floor of a row of rooms at a motel in Kent, Wash. Hackers aiming to call attention to the dangers of mass surveillance said they were able to peer into hospitals, schools, factories, jails and corporate offices after they broke into the systems of a security-camera startup. That California startup, Verkada, said Wednesday, March 10, 2021, it is investigating the scope of the breach, first reported by Bloomberg, and has notified law enforcement and its customers. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

SEATTLE – The Justice Department has charged a Swiss hacker with computer intrusion and identity theft, just over a week after the hacker embarrassed a U.S. security-camera startup and its clients by showing how easy it was to spy on the cameras watching over hospitals, schools and corporate offices.

An indictment against 21-year-old Tillie Kottmann was brought Thursday by a grand jury in the Seattle-based Western District of Washington.

Federal prosecutors said Thursday that Kottmann, of Lucerne, Switzerland, was initially charged in September. The range of allegations date back to 2019 and involve the alleged theft of credentials and data and publishing source code and proprietary information from more than 100 entities, including companies and government agencies.

Kottmann has described the most recent leak of camera footage taken from customers of California security-camera provider Verkada as part of a “hacktivist" cause of exposing the dangers of mass surveillance. Kottmann told The Associated Press in an online chat last week that they found the credentials needed to enter the site exposed on the open internet.

In conversations with other reporters last year, Kottmann, who uses they/them pronouns, said data they obtained and posted online had been exposed by poor security practices and they sought to shame organizations into buttoning up their networks.

Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa Gorman rejected that approach in a statement Thursday.

“These actions can increase vulnerabilities for everyone from large corporations to individual consumers," Gorman wrote. "Wrapping oneself in an allegedly altruistic motive does not remove the criminal stench from such intrusion, theft, and fraud.”

Kottmann didn't return an online request for comment. Swiss lawyer Marcel Bosonnet said he is representing Kottmann but declined further comment Friday.