(CN) – The FBI arrested a Santa Monica man who worked on former Democratic Congresswoman Katie Hill’s campaign Friday morning on charges of staging cyberattacks against one of Hill’s 2018 opponents.
Arthur Jan Dam, 32, is accused of orchestrating four distributed denial-of-service attacks on an unnamed candidate’s website in April and May of 2018. The victim believes the attacks contributed to a loss in the June 2018 Democratic primary for California’s 25th congressional district.
“Today’s arrest shows the FBI’s commitment to hold accountable anyone who interferes with an American’s right to vote or who deprives a candidate the right to compete fairly in an election,” said Paul Delacourt, assistant director of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, in a statement Friday.
Dam provided $500 in free graphic design and cybersecurity consulting work for Hill’s campaign in 2018, according to records retrieved by Intercept reporter Ryan Grim. The Intercept also reports that Dam is married to Kelsey O’Hara, a Hill campaign fundraiser who was the focus of sexual remarks made by Hill and caught on video by Vice News in 2018.
The FBI has found no evidence linking Hill or O’Hara to the cyberattacks.
Two of Hill’s Democratic primary opponents, Jess Phoenix and Bryan Cafario, were both targets of cyberattacks in 2018, but there were no reports of attacks on Hill’s website. One of the attacks occurred at a pivotal moment, just one hour before what a campaign staffer called “the biggest debate of the primary” on April 28, according to the 43-page criminal complaint.
After the April 28 attack, the targeted candidate beefed up cybersecurity measures but that failed to prevent a fourth disruption to the campaign’s website on May 29, one week before the primary election.
As a result of the digital onslaught, the victim suffered a reduction in campaign donations and had to spend extra time and $27,000 to $30,000 responding to the attacks, according to the complaint.
The FBI traced the attacks to an Amazon Web Services account associated with Dam’s residence and place of work. Authorities also found Dam had done “extensive research” on the victim and various cyberattack methods.
Denial-of-service attacks like those used against Hill’s primary opponent are most commonly carried out by overloading a network server with traffic, making the target website inaccessible to others.
Dam surrendered to FBI agents at the federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles on Friday morning. He was expected to make his initial court appearance Friday afternoon.
He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California Nick Hanna said law enforcement at all levels has pledged to safeguard the integrity of U.S. elections.
“We will not tolerate interference with computer systems associated with candidates or voting,” Hanna said in a statement. “Cases like this demonstrate our commitment to preserving our democratic system.”
Hill resigned her congressional seat in October 2019 amid a probe into ethics violations stemming from leaked photos of her relationship with a campaign aide. Several Republican and Democratic candidates are vying to fill Hill’s vacant seat in a March 3 special election, which may result in a May 12 runoff.
An email sent to Hill’s campaign seeking comment came back as undeliverable Friday afternoon.
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