By Olivia Bousquet
Former SUNY Plattsburgh students Michael Fish and Nicholas Faber pleaded guilty Feb. 8 for hacking into social media accounts to steal nude images from women. Faber admitted that from 2017 to 2019, he worked with Fish to access the school email accounts of women college students and then used the information to gain access to the victims’ social media accounts.
Faber pleaded guilty to computer fraud and aggravated identity theft. He has agreed to pay $35,430 in restitution to SUNY Plattsburgh, which was allocated when trying to identify compromised accounts, reviewing computer servers access logs, resetting passwords and notifying students and parents. Fish pleaded guilty to computer hacking, aggravated identity theft and child pornography offenses.
According to University Police Chief Patrick Rascoe, he received a complaint last year from the Library and Information Technology Services (LITS) about suspicious activity on an unnamed student’s account, which showed her account’s IP address being accessed from Canada. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and State Police cyber crimes unit took over the investigation Mar. 4, 2019 and was concluded about a week later thanks to the extensive help at LITS staff, Rascoe expressed.
“We set up Duo on the student’s account, it wasn’t widespread here at that time here on campus, but that was what really prompted us to finally change over to Duo,” Rascoe said. There was no hacking into email accounts, but Fish and Faber socially engineered their way into accounts by guessing password reset questions. They were then able to reset the victims’ social media accounts.
Katie Lein, a 2016 SUNY Plattsburgh graduate, received one of these calls from University Police in spring 2019. They asked her if she changed any of her social media account passwords during certain times and helped her set up Duo.
According to Rascoe, the FBI left University Police tasked with contacting the victims who had been hacked to get general information and help them set up Duo. Despite some challenges of Duo, like repeatedly having to login or student’s not having cell phones nearby, Rascoe believes everyone is “well-protected” now.
An anonymous SUNY Plattsburgh alumna, who was contacted by University Police about being hacked, knew Fish from greek life events when attending her undergraduate program in 2015. She also lived near Fish during her graduate program from 2017 to 2018. She did not know Faber.
“A University Police officer told me if the FBI finds any incriminating photos that they could see me in, they would contact me. They never did,” the anonymous source said. The source did notice her email account kept getting login errors, but she never noticed getting logged out of Snapchat.
While Lein did not know Faber, she was also acquainted with Fish from greek life events and even attended graduate school at Albany Law together for a semester. Lein and the anonymous source, described Fish’s character as a “stereotypical frat boy” who liked to flirt and sleep with women.
“There’s a lot of anger toward someone I thought I knew, even though I didn’t really trust him,” Lein said. “I never thought he could betray my trust that much. I knew, maybe, he wouldn’t be there to pick me up if I called. I knew, maybe, he wouldn’t have my back if someone was being creepy toward me at a bar. I knew I couldn’t trust him that way, but I would have never thought he would steal my personal information, sell it, violate me and treat me literally as a commodity.”
There were other victims who were too emotionally attached to the case to speak about their experiences. Lein felt “a lot of guilt” about everything that happened. Once the story began to spread last year, Lein noticed more attention was focusing on what the women should have done differently rather than condemning Faber and Fish. When she saw posts online blaming women for keeping the intimate content, Lein said it was “shocking” and “appalling” to read the hurtful comments.
“Society spends a lot of time focusing on the things that a person should or shouldn’t do in order to not be harmed, rather than putting the focus on the people who are causing the harm,” Title IX Coordinator Butterfly Blaise Boire said. “Anytime that an individual is engaging with any sort of expression of their body, whether it’s through photos or messages, and they are present and making informed decisions, that’s their business.”
The victims of Faber and Fish may find solace after their sentences date June 9 and March 19, respectively. Boire expressed the transparency of the college was a valued asset in keeping the community involved. In a recent email to students, SUNY Plattsburgh President Alexander Enyedi said he was “pleased to see these cases brought and the guilty pleas filed.”
“I am happy to share my version of things in the hopes that it makes somebody else realize that is not their fault, that they are not to blame for this,” Lein said. “It’s OK to talk about these things. It’s OK to share this. It’s OK to love yourself and your own body. It’s OK to have naked photos, and it’s OK to not have naked photos. I just hate the stigmas surrounding all this.”