A New Mexico man pleaded guilty today in St. Paul, Minnesota, to engaging in and directing distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against the websites of his prior employers, business competitors and public services, as well as felon-in-possession charges. Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Gregory G. Brooker of the District of Minnesota and Special Agent in Charge Richard T. Thornton of the FBI’s Minneapolis Field Office made the announcement.
John Kelsey Gammell pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit intentional damage to a protected computer and two counts of being a felon-in-possession of a firearm before District Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright of the District of Minnesota. He will be sentenced at a later date.
According to admissions made in connection with his plea, from at least in or about July 2015 through in or about March 2017, Gammell engaged in a campaign of DDoS attacks on websites throughout the United States. A DDoS attack is a malicious attempt to disable or interrupt service to a computer or website, usually by causing large amounts of internet traffic to be directed to the computer or website. Gammell directed DDoS attacks at a number of victims’ websites, including websites operated by companies he used to work for, companies that declined to hire him, competitors of his business, and websites for law enforcement agencies and courts, among others.
Gammell admitted that he caused DDoS attacks by using computer programs on his own computers, as well as by directing “DDoS-for-hire” companies from which he purchased services to launch the DDoS attacks. Gammell purchased subscriptions to multiple DDoS-for-hire companies, including VDoS, CStress, Inboot, Booter.xyz and IPStresser. He initiated attacks using these DDoS-for-hire companies against dozens of victims, including but not limited to Washburn Computer Group, the Minnesota State Courts, Dakota County Technical College, Minneapolis Community and Technical College, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and others. Gammell took a variety of steps to avoid detection and circumvent his victims’ DDoS attack mitigation efforts, such as using IP address anonymization services to mask his identity and location, using cryptocurrency in payment for DDoS-for-hire services, using multiple DDoS-for-hire services at once to amplify his attacks, using spoofed emails to conceal his conduct, and using encryption and drive-cleaning tools to conceal digital evidence of his conduct on his computers.
Gammell, who is prohibited from possessing firearms or ammunition based on prior felony convictions, also admitted that he possessed parts for use in the building of AR-15 assault rifles, upper and lower receivers, a pistol grip, a trigger guard, 15 high-capacity magazines, a buttstock, a buffer tube and 420 rounds of 5.56 x 45mm full metal jacket rifle ammunition in Colorado, where he worked. He further admitted that he possessed a Heckler & Koch P2000 handgun, and a Springfield Armory model 1911-A1, .45 caliber handgun, as well as hundreds of rounds of ammunition in New Mexico, where he resided.
This case was investigated by the FBI’s Minneapolis Field Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy C. Rank of the District of Minnesota and Trial Attorney Aaron R. Cooper of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section are prosecuting the case. The U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the District of Colorado and the District of New Mexico also provided substantial assistance in this matter.