Congressional aide tries to hire hackers to change college grades - but the joke's on him

News by Dan Kaplan

A Texas Christian University (TCU) graduate who solicited two hackers to infiltrate the college's database to improve his grade point average - but was instead strung along by the pair in an often humorous exchange of emails - has been fired after it emerged he was the top aide to a Montana congressman.

A Texas Christian University (TCU) graduate who solicited two hackers to infiltrate the college's database to improve his grade point average - but was instead strung along by the pair in an often humorous exchange of emails - has been fired after it emerged he was the top aide to a Montana congressman.

In August, Todd Shriber, 28, former communications director for Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., began email correspondence with two hackers - using the online aliases "Jericho" and "Lyger" - who run attrition.org, a site featuring computer security resources.

"I need to urgently make contact with a hacker that would be interested in doing a one-time job for me," Shriber said in his first email to Jericho. "The pay would be good."

Jericho and Lyger, who consider themselves "security enthusiasts," never attempted to breach TCU's database, instead choosing to engage in a series of emails with Shriber, who had no idea he was being duped by the hackers. They have since posted the 22-email exchange on their website.

"This was seemingly all a joke played on Mr. Shriber," Tracy Syler-Jones, a spokeswoman for TCU, told SCMagazine.com today. "We would certainly want Mr. Shriber to learn from this experience and move on and do well with the remainder of his career."

But, she said, the university "does take proactive steps….to continuously monitor and update our systems in an effort to prevent security breaches."

Shriber - a 2000 graduate from TCU with a broadcast journalism degree - was unaware that the joke was on him, even after Jericho asked Shriber to shoot a picture of a pigeon to prove that he was legitimate in his request, and not a federal agent.

"Forgive what I assume is (a) dumb question, but what are pigeons?" Shriber asked. "I know you're not talking about the bird."

"Actually I am," Jericho responded.

Using his friend's camera, Shriber shot two photos of a squirrel in a front yard and then emailed them to Jericho. He received permission to photograph a squirrel because he could not locate any pigeons.

Jericho and Lyger said their site - which has dedicated a section called "Going Postal" to chronicle bizarre requests they receive - entertain about two emails per day seeking hacker assistance.

"Some people mail us and seem like they will to any length to get what they want," Jericho told SCMagazine.com today. "We often test that."

The emails with Shriber were not all joking in manner. Jericho and Lyger mixed in some actual computer security jargon to make it appear to Shriber like they were attempting to access the college's network to make changes to Shriber's grades. (He told them he wanted his GPA modified because he was considering a run at graduate school).

"Have had a chance to set up a couple of IDS/IPS evasion bots, perimeter scanning came up clean," Lyger said in one email to Shriber. "Small SQL injection issue merged with XSS shows that the backend database may be either 768-bit encrypted or a simple 3DES matter, but a little more time should take care of that issue."

In addition, Jericho warned Shriber that what he was requesting was illegal.

"First, let's be clear," Jericho said. "You are soliciting me to break the law and hack into a computer across state lines. That is a federal offense and (punishable by) multiple felonies."

The correspondence ended when Lyger told Shriber in a profanity-ridden rant that TCU had discovered the attempted hack.

"I'm going deep underground," he said. "If they (authorities) ask about me or attrition, we don't know each other. You're just as guilty and liable so when they come knocking, don't say anything without a lawyer and when you ask them to put the gun down, say it nice because that (expletive) isn't fun."

Shriber was fired from his role as communications director to Rehberg after a blogger revealed his identity about a week ago and Shriber acknowledged the emails were his. The congressman's office refused to comment today to SCMagazine.com.

"It's a real head-scratcher," Erik Iverson, Rehberg's chief of staff, told the Dallas Morning News on Sunday. "This whole thing was really out of character for Todd, and I believe this was a one-time incident. At the end of the day, the position entails a lot of trust. This was a violation of that trust, and I just felt like we really didn't have any choice at that point (but to fire him)."

Jericho said he was "amused" when learning his victim was a congressman's aide and fired as a result of the stunt.

 Click here to email reporter Dan Kaplan.

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