When the COVID-19 pandemic reached the United States last spring, a Georgia-based medical equipment packaging company worked to get personal protective equipment (PPE) to medical workers treating sick patients.
But a disgruntled former employee thwarted those efforts at a time when protective equipment was desperately needed.
Christopher Dobbins, a vice-president in the company who’d been fired a few weeks earlier, still had a secret account on the company’s computer system that he’d created before he was fired. Although the employer revoked his access, Dobbins used this secret account to get back into the company’s computer system from his home in late March. Once in the network, he changed or deleted critical data that the company needed to function, such as shipping information. It delayed the company’s ability to send out shipments of PPE.
“It was both a chance for the company to contribute to the national response and a business opportunity,” said Special Agent Roderick Coffin, who investigated the case out of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office.
The company quickly figured out its systems had been breached and alerted the FBI. The company’s operations ground to a halt briefly, and disruptions continued for months.
The FBI Atlanta Cyber Task Force gathered evidence that showed Dobbins was behind the hack. He pleaded guilty to computer intrusion charges in July 2020 and was sentenced to one year in prison in October 2020.
“Given the pandemic, it was especially urgent that we figure out what happened and ensure there was no continuing compromise,” Coffin said. “We also wanted to make a statement that the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office are going to investigate and prosecute these types of crimes.”
In this case, like so many cyber cases the FBI investigates, a collaborative relationship with the victim company was key to success.
“In computer intrusion cases, the crime scenes are the systems in these companies’ offices, and we need their assistance to process that in a way it’s admissible in court,” Coffin said. “The FBI works very hard to proactively establish trust with companies, so when these types of things occur, we can quickly figure out what happened, and they can move forward.”