Former student Vishwanath Akuthota of The College of Saint Rose is charged with destroying more than $58,000 of computer equipment at his alma mater with a malicious USB drive called a USB Killer. The weaponized USB peripheral is designed to create an electrical surge intended to short circuit the computer that it is connected to.
The USB Killer device works by sending commands to the computer’s capacitors to rapidly charge and discharge in a repeated cycle. This causes the computer’s circuitry to overload, according to a press release issued the United States Department of Justice, causing damage to the USB port and the computer’s electrical system. Malicious actors can readily obtain a USB Killer device online, of which there are several models and versions, or create their own homemade devices using air ionizers and camera flash parts, according to Wikipedia.
As a result of Akuthota’s action, a total of 66 computers, numerous monitors, and connected podiums with USB ports were destroyed with the USB Killer. Akuthota had recorded himself destroying one of the computers using his iPhone, stating “I’m going to kill this guy” before he inserted the USB Killer device into the PC’s USB port. It’s unclear what motive Akuthota may have had in wanting to destroy the computers of The College of Saint Rose. The incident occurred on February 14, years after Akuthota had graduated with an MBA degree.
When asked for comment, a spokesperson told The Verge that the FBI had asked the college to not offer a statement, likely because of the pending sentencing hearing.
Akuthota pled guilty to the charges, and the announcement of the plea deal was made by the FBI, the Albany Police Department, and the office of the United States Attorney in the Northern District of New York. As part of the deal, Akuthota, an Indian national residing in the U.S. on a student visa, agreed to pay restitution to the private college in New York for damages. He was arrested in North Carolina on February 22.
Sentencing for the case is scheduled for August 12. Akuthota faces up to 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and a three-year period of supervised release post-prison.
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