Feds: Saint Rose grad used ‘killer’ device to fry computers

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ALBANY — In 2016, College of Saint Rose graduate assistant Vishwanath Akuthota said he believed there was a “lot of opportunity” for him at the school.

On Monday, federal prosecutors said he took advantage of a different kind of opportunity — access to campus — when he destroyed dozens of computers at the cost of more than $50,000.

Akuthota, a 26-year-old Albany resident, was arrested in Raleigh, N.C., and charged with the hidden destruction of more than 50 computers at the school through the use of a “USB Killer Device,” a disabling mechanism that resembles a data stick.

The official charge is intentional damage of a protected computer.

An FBI agent’s affidavit in a federal complaint states that on Feb. 14, an assistant director of security at the college told Albany police that a man had entered several locations on campus and inserted a device that destroyed each computer’s motherboard, rendering them inoperable.

Video surveillance footage showed a man with a red sweatshirt, blue jeans, black sneakers, and a gray backpack, the agent stated. Investigators and college employees concluded it was Akuthota, who according to school records graduated in December 2017 with a master’s degree in business administration.

The agent’s affidavit said a “USB Killer Device” does its damage by rapidly and repeatedly charging onboard capacitors and discharging the voltage over the data lines into the host device.

“This process ultimately renders the host electronic device inoperable by damaging the port, hard disk, and overall electrical system,” the agent said.

The devices are inexpensive and readily available online. Computer manufacturers have attempted to install protections against so-called USB surge attacks, with mixed success.

The complaint against Akuthota does not mention a suspected motive.

A Nov. 30, 2016, Facebook post by the college featured an interview with Akuthota, who described his enthusiasm for jazz. In addition to business administration, he was pursuing a degree in computer information systems.

“Why Saint Rose?” the interviewer asked.

“I see there is a lot of opportunity in the college which will prepare you for the better future,” Akuthota said. “Where I can learn and apply in my life.”

His goal was “to become an entrepreneur.” It is unclear what work he has been engaged in since graduation.

Jennifer Gish, a spokeswoman for Saint Rose, said law enforcement asked the school not to comment on the matter.

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