Winston-Salem man accused of making false threats against schools, hacking

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A Winston-Salem man was arrested today and is accused being part of a group that made false threats of violent attacks at many locations and staged attacks on computer systems belonging to institutions and companies.

Timothy Dalton Vaughn, 20, of Winston-Salem – who used online handles that include “WantedbyFeds” and “Hacker_R_US” – was arrested Wednesday morning by special agents with the FBI.

According to the Department of Justice, Vaughan is a member of Apophis Squad, a worldwide collective of computer hackers and swatters intent on using the internet to cause chaos. The collective caused disruptions by making threatening phone calls, sending bogus reports of violent school attacks via email and launching distributed denial-of-service attacks on websites.

A federal indictment indictment alleges that Apophis Squad conducted cyber and swatting attacks against individuals, businesses and institutions in the U.S. and the United Kingdom. Members made threats of bombs and school shootings that were “designed to cause fear of imminent danger and did cause the closure of hundreds of schools on two continents on multiple occasions,” according to the indictment.

The conspiracy alleged in the indictment spanned the first eight months of 2018, during which members of Apophis Squad communicated various threats – sometimes using “spoofed” email addresses to make it appear the threats had been sent by innocent parties, including the mayor of London. They also allegedly defaced websites and launched denial-of-service attacks.

Vaughn allegedly conducted a DDoS attack that took down hoonigan.com, the website of a Long Beach motorsport company, for three days, and sent extortionate emails to the company demanding a Bitcoin payment to cease the attack.

Vaughn bragged in an online forum that Apophis Squad had targeted over 2,000 schools in the United States and more than 400 in the United Kingdom, according to the indictment, which details threats about imminent shootings and bombs being sent to school districts across Southern and Central California.

The Apophis Squad also took credit for hacking and defacing the website of a university in Colombia, resulting in visitors to the site seeing a picture of Adolf Hitler holding a sign saying “YOU ARE HACKED” alongside the message “Hacked by APOPHIS SQUAD.”

Vaughn is charged with conspiracy and additional felony offenses, including making threats to injure in interstate commerce, making interstate threats involving explosives, intentionally damaging a computer and interstate threat to damage a protected computer with intent to extort.

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