The US government has charged Swiss national Till Kottmann for computer intrusion and identity and data theft in intrusions against several private organizations and government entities.
Twenty-one-year-old Kottmann, who also goes by Tillie and uses they/them pronouns, was most recently connected to the breach of US camera security startup Verkada. Late last week, Swiss authorities raided Kottmann’s apartment and seized electronic devices after the alleged attacker reportedly shared video and images related to the incident. The attackers responsible were able to access a super admin account that let them access video from nearly 150,000 cameras.
This isn’t the only attack Kottmann has been involved in. The indictment unsealed today by the Justice Department reveals Kottmann and co-conspirators have broken into dozens of companies and government entities, and shared private victim data from more than 100 online targets.
Since 2019, Kottmann has primarily targeted online code repositories belonging to private- and public-sector organizations. They cloned source code, files, and other confidential and proprietary data, some of which included hard-coded administrative credentials, access keys, and other means to expand their system or network access.
Kottmann used this access to further infiltrate target entities and copy additional files, records, and information, the indictment alleges. They then leaked victim data through several means, one of which was a website (git.rip) seized by the FBI. Kottmann and conspirators communicated with reporters over social media to recruit other participants and further grow their scheme.
Their website, in operation since 2019, listed data for more than 100 organizations including Intel, Microsoft, Adobe, Lenovo, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Pepsi, Toyota, GitHub, AMD, Disney, Motorola, Qualcomm, and others, The Record reports.
The attack vector, and type of data taken, varied for each target. The indictment describes several of these incidents — for example, a February 2020 attack in which Kottmann illegally accessed computers belonging to a Washington-based security device company and stole proprietary data. In April 2020, they targeted a tactical equipment manufacturer and misused employee credentials to access their source code databases. Later in August, they targeted a Washington state agency and US government contractor and then took source code related to Web applications.
Following some of these attacks, Kottmann expressed a desire to shed light on organizations’ poor security practices. When they leaked the Mercedes-Benz onboard logic unit (OLU) source code, Kottmann explained to ZDNet how they were able to find the Daimler GitLab server using specialized Google search queries otherwise known as Google dorks.
“I often just hunt for interesting GitLab instances, mostly with just simple Google dorks, when I’m bored, and I keep being amazed by how little thought seems to go into the security settings,” they said in an interview.
Active US Attorney Tessa Gorman said in a statement that stealing credentials and data, and publishing source code and sensitive information online “is not protected speech – it is theft and fraud.” This can increase vulnerabilities for large organizations and individuals, she says.
“Wrapping oneself in an allegedly altruistic motive does not remove the criminal stench from such intrusion, theft, and fraud,” Gorman adds.
The charges against Kottmann include conspiracy to commit computer fraud and abuse, punishable by up to five years in prison; wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, punishable by up to 20 years in prison; and aggravated identity theft, punishable by a mandatory minimum of 24 months in prison consecutive to any other sentence imposed.
Kottmann remains in Lucerne, Switzerland, and has been notified of the pending US charges.
Kelly Sheridan is the Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focuses on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial … View Full Bio