While we are more and more dependent from internet services, „outage“ is one of the scenarios we fear. With this dependency, losing availability may come along with losing connectivity.
Last Thursday, the FBI arrested a man in Texas for allegedly planning to “kill of about 70% of the Internet” in a bomb attack targeting an Amazon Web Services (AWS) data center on Smith Switch Road in Ashburn, Virginia. The suspect, named Seth Aaron Pendley, aged 28, was charged via criminal complaint on Friday morning for attempting to destroy a building using C-4 plastic explosives he tried to buy from an undercover FBI-employee.
The FBI already got informed of the suspect’s plans in January when he revealed his plot on the MyMilitia-website using a „Dionysus“-handle, a forum used by militia members and supporters to organize and communicate. In late January, FBI agents from another source told that Pendley contacted them using the encrypted messaging-app „Signal“ that he was planning to use C-4 plastic explosives to attack Amazon’s data centers in an attempt to “kill off about 70% of the internet,” according to the criminal complaint filed and uploaded by BleepingComputer.com.
Not mentioning that it is quite difficult to achieve this by bombing a single data center, the threat was imminent and shows how much damage can possibly be done to our digital infrastructure.
In February, Pendley is told to has shared a hand-made map of Amazon’s Virginia-based AWS data center with the source, “featuring proposed routes of ingress and egress at the facility.” The same source introduced the suspect to an undercover FBI-employee who acted as an explosives-supplier at the end of March. Additionally, it is reported that he told the “supplier” that he was planning to bomb servers he believed were used by the FBI, CIA, and other US federal agencies. His plot also included taking down the “oligarchy currently leading the United States“.
Further on, he met with the undercover FBI-employee on April 8th to get what he believed were explosive devices. Instead, he received inert devices. The suspect was then arrested by FBI agents after placing them into his car, following a demonstration from the “explosives supplier” on how to arm and detonate them.
If he is found guilty of planning to blow up Amazon’s Virginia data center (which seemingly looks quite obvious according to the evidence), Pendley may face up to 20 years in federal prison.
We are indebted to the concerned citizen who came forward to report the defendant’s alarming online rhetoric
acting US-Attorney Prerak Shah said.
In flagging his posts to the FBI, this individual may have saved the lives of a number of tech workers. We are also incredibly proud of our FBI partners, who ensured that the defendant was apprehended with an inert explosive device before he could inflict real harm.
Amazon also shared the following statement with BleepingComputer.com about the planned attack.
We would like to thank the FBI for their work in this investigation. We take the safety and security of our staff and customer data incredibly seriously, and constantly review various vectors for any potential threats. We will continue to retain this vigilance about our employees and customers.
Having a look back, it must still be cleared if this case is somehow affiliated with the Capitol riots from January 6th, 2021 and if Pendley is a supporter of this government-hostile movement. By all means, the whole story shows that, with our steadily-growing dependence on data center-infrastructure and online services, protecting those foundations turns more and more important. Even if the suspect had accomplished his dreadfully plan, it might still be doubted if the outage of one data center had a severe impact on the worldwide Internet but we shouldn’t forget how vulnerable we are in the digital times of today!