A former employee at the Energy Department and Nuclear Regulatory Commission was sentenced to 18 months in prison for his part in a spear-phishing campaign on his former colleagues with the ultimate goal of infecting federal networks and selling secrets to foreign governments.
Charles Harvey Eccleston, 62, pleaded guilty in February and was sentenced on April 11. Along with the jail time, he was ordered to repay $9,000 he received from undercover FBI agents as part of their investigation.
Eccleston worked for the NRC until he was fired in 2010. While living in the Philippines in 2013, he entered an unnamed foreign embassy in Manila and offered to sell information on more than 5,000 Energy Department officials’ email accounts.
According to the indictment, Eccleston asked for $18,800 for the accounts, which he said were “top secret.” He also told the foreign officials that if they weren’t interested, he would make the same offer to China, Iran or Venezuela.
The foreign officials took him up on the offer, however they were actually undercover FBI agents.
Over the course of a year, undercover agents purchased thousands of email accounts from Eccelston, most of which were later determined to be publicly available.
During a meeting in June 2014, Eccleston gave an agent a list of 30,000 emails and also offered to design a spear-phishing campaign to bore deeper into Energy’s networks and exfiltrate more sensitive information.
Eccleston crafted a form email pretending to be from the organizers of an upcoming conference and embedded a supposedly malicious link provided by the FBI agent. He sent the email to 80 Energy employees, a number of whom worked at nuclear laboratories.
He then went to a meet to collect $80,000 for his efforts; instead he was taken into custody and later extradited to the U.S.
“Today’s sentencing sends a powerful message that no one will be allowed to sabotage the U.S. government’s cyber infrastructure or threaten our national security through the illicit sale of information to a foreign intelligence service,” FBI Assistant Director in Charge Paul Abbate said on April 11. “The FBI will continue to investigate and pursue those who attempt to disclose sensitive knowledge about our nation’s information systems and bring them to justice.”
On Feb. 2, Eccleston pleaded guilty to charges of attempted unauthorized access and intentional damage to a protected computer. That is down from the three counts of unauthorized access and a count of wire fraud he was originally charged with.
“Charles Harvey Eccleston is a scientist and former government employee who was willing to betray his country and his former employer out of spite,” U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips said. “His attempts to sell access to sensitive computer networks demonstrate why the government must be so vigilant to prevent cyberattacks.”