By Cathy Locke
A Citrus Heights man has been arrested in connection with a computer hacking scheme in which he is accused of unlawfully accessing e-mail and Facebook accounts of women throughout the United States.
The California Highway Patrol arrested George Samuel Bronk, 23, today on suspicion of 30 felony counts associated with computer intrusion, identity theft, child pornography and extortion.
The arrest followed a two-moth investigation that began in August when the CHP's Computer Crimes Investigations Unit received a request for assistance from the Connecticut State Police. Information obtained by the State Police from a victim in Connecticut led the CHP to serve a search warrant at Bronk's Citrus Heights home, where several items of electronic evidence were found, according to a CHP news release.
Bronk is accused of using his personal computer to unlawfully access more than 170 e-mail and Facebook accounts of women throughout the United States, including California and the initial victim in Connecticut. E-mail addresses to each of the accounts were among a compiled list of 3,200 e-mail profiles found on Bronk's computer, officials said.
Investigators said the activity appeared to have taken place from September 2009 through September 2010, during which Bronk allegedly targeted victims by scanning for information on Facebook's social networking website. He then allegedly electronically contacted the victim's e-mail service provider, used the forgotten password process and guessed security questions posed by the e-mail service provider. Once access to the e-mail account was gained, the victim was locked out.
After gaining access to the e-mail account, Bronk allegedly searched the victim's "sent mail" folder for nude or semi-nude photographs and videos, which he then sent to the victim's entire-mail address book from the victim's e-mail account. The pictures and videos also were downloaded to his personal computer.
In many cases, according to the news release, he posted the nude photographs to galleries on the victims' Facebook pages and to other Internet sites, and made posted comments on the Facebook sites of the victims' friends.
In an online chat session with one victim, officials said, Bronk demanded that that victim send him more sexually explicit photographs of herself. He allegedly threatened to more widely post photographs that he already possessed of the victim if the victim did not comply. The victim complied.
In addition to the evidence related to the unlawful access of e-mail and Facebook accounts, extortion and identity theft, more than 1,100 images and 50 videos of child pornography were located on Bronk's computer and a portable hard drive, according to the news release.
With the discovery of additional victims, the CHP initiated a joint investigation with the Sacramento Valley Hi-Tech Crimes Task Force and the FBI, and is being assisted by the California Attorney General's Office.
People who think they may have been a victim in the case are advised to contact the CHP's Computer Crimes Investigations Unit at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The CHP reminds computer users to take steps to safeguard their online accounts, including the security questions associated with these accounts. This includes limiting the amount and kinds of information posted on social networking sites, removing birthdates and parents' names, for example. People also are advised to change the security questions on e-mail services, banks and other online sites on a regular basis, and to avoid using information that is available on any social networking site or elsewhere on the Internet.
Call The Bee's Cathy Locke, (916) 321-5287.