BALTIMORE (CN) – A “theological investigator” broke into a database of unpublished manuscripts by a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to hawk the documents online, the Ellen G. White Estate claims in Federal Court.
White (1827-1915) “was a co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church … and revered messenger of God,” according to the complaint.
An ardent abolitionist and vegetarian, White told her followers she experienced religious visions in 1845, which she chronicled in writings that laid the philosophical groundwork of the world’s 12th-largest religious sect.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church’s name comes from its emphasis on the second coming, or advent, of Jesus Christ, and its observance of the Saturday as the Sabbath, as in Judaism.
Adventist customs also echo Jewish practice in their following kosher dietary laws, with an emphasis on health and wellness.
White’s critics, most notably University of California at Berkeley’s science historian Ronald Numbers, accused her of plagiarizing her visions from mundane health reformers of her day. She wrote 40 books and more than 5,000 articles, and her estate claims copyrights to more than 50,000 pages of her writings.
Lead defendant Brendan Knudson, who calls himself a “private detective, specializing in theological and historical investigations,” has tried to unearth the unpublished pages since 2006, the estate says in its lengthy complaint.
The estate claims that Knudson sought help from hackers to break into its database after the organization rebuffed his demands for unrestricted access.
“On January 13, 2012, Knudson, under the alias ‘GirdedSword,’ registered his profile on an Internet forum located at www.hackforums.net (‘Hack Forums’), used by computer hackers with the purpose of communicating, organizing and hiring hackers,” the complaint states.
“Knudson frequently used the alias ‘GirdedSword’ or ‘WithGirdedSword’ for communication across the Internet and social media, such as: on Twitter ‘@withgirdedsword’; on Skype ‘withgirdedsword,’ on his personal blog ‘With Girded Sword.’ …
“After registering on Hack Forums, Knudson engaged in a determined and aggressive effort to hack into the Estate’s technologically protected website. … He requested help, posting numerous messages on the Hack Forums, all with the intent of recruiting others to help him access ‘thousands and thousands’ of SDA Prophet Ellen White’s ‘unpublished letters and manuscripts’ [i.e. EGW Protected Works] from an ‘online’ ‘password protected database’ found at www.egwwritings.org. Some of Knudson’s posts were deceptively entitled ‘Unpublished Religious Database,’ … or ‘Sensitive Website Information Download Hack.’ …
“Knudson indicated that his intention was ‘to perform a public service and acquire the unpublished writings of a ‘prophet’ of a particular religious institution … to put this information in the hands of the public.’ … Additionally, he wrote, ‘This is urgent, and I am willing to pay on acquisition of the information,'” the complaint states. (Citations omitted)
The estate claims that Knudson found as many as 20 John Does willing to help him hack. From Feb. 17 to April 9 this year, the database sustained attacks from users as far and wide as Armenia and Brazil, the estate says.
Knudson, originally from Australia, lives in Armenia, the estate says. It claims that an investigation into the attack yielded evidence that tied Knudson to it.
“Significantly, the SQL injection inquiries that were contained in the web server logs match exactly the SQL inquires posted on the Hack Forums by Knudson and the others,” the complaint states.
“Structured Query Language,” or SQL, refers to questions written in database language intended to extract the contents of the database, the Adventists say.
Unable to breach a second level of protection, Knudson returned to Hacking Forums on March 1 asking users to decrypt several passwords, which the users provided, according to the complaint.
The estate claims that Knudson successfully swiped 8,300 documents by the end of the month.
On March 20, he bought three domains, unpublishedellenwhite.com, ellenwhiteletters.com and ellenwhitemanuscripts.com from WildWestDomains.com, according to the complaint.
WildWestDomains.com resells domains from the better-known company, GoDaddy.
The complaint names those two companies as defendants, along with other dot-coms Webs Inc., HostGator.com, Domains By Proxy and PayPal.
The estate claims that Knudson worked under the alias “SDAnonymous,” but left his digital fingerprints and address on his PayPal agreement to sell the unpublished White writings.
It claims that Knudson marketed the writings by sending an email blast to more than 1,000 addresses that he swiped from the web.
He compromised his anonymity again by promising readers of “Adventist Today” that the unpublished documents just needed “a few tweaks” before he publicly released them, the estate claims.
“In response to an article published in ‘Adventist Today’ on March 27, 2012, regarding the recent publication of Ellen G. White’s works, Unpublished Ellen White, a website owned by Knudson, proved his intimate inside working knowledge of the plaintiff’s EGW Writings Database, when he stated that to release the unpublished writings would involve only a ‘few tweaks’ and ‘some minor adjustments to the Estate’s already public website and everything would be available to anyone,'” the complaint states. “In fact, for months, Knudson and his co-conspirators attempted to break plaintiff’s website’s security in order to illegally copy the EGW Protected Works.”
The estate seeks an injunction and damages for violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, Stored Communications Act and other laws.
It is represented by Arnold Lutzker.
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