A fugitive suspected hacker wanted by the FBI was picked up from his boat after he sent out a Mayday distress call off the coast of Cuba, by a Disney cruise ship on Wednesday. The Disney ship returned to her Miami harbour and the rescued suspect is now in US custody.
Matt Gottesfeld, 31, of Somerville, Massachusetts, is a suspected member of the hacktivist movement Anonymous being pursued by the US authorities after a cyber-attack on a hospital. Boston Children’s Hospital’s servers were struck down in 2014, disrupting services for a week, and causing an estimated $300,000 damage. Gottesfeld faces one count of conspiracy, and a $250,000 fine.
The hacker and his wife were taken on board the Disney cruise ship after being missing for several weeks. FBI agents had conducted a search of Gottesfeld’s home in October 2014, which alerted the hacker that he was under investigation.
When a wellness check was undertaken by the local police department in response to concerns from employers and relatives, Gottesfeld was nowhere to be found. It was reported that he had not been at work for several weeks, and had had no contact with relatives.
After picking up Gottesfeld and his wife, the couple were escorted to Miami, where the authorities were waiting, having been tipped off by an FBI operative based in the Bahamas. The couple were apprehended immediately.
The Boston Children’s Hospital attack was carried out in response to a heated custody battle. According to authorities, a YouTube video published in 2014 under the name of Anonymous was created by Gottesfeld, threatening the hospital. Gottesfeld said that Anonymous “will punish all those held accountable and will not relent until (Pelletier) is free.”
The attack was launched to protest the treatment of Justina Pelletier, a teenager from Connecticut in the middle of a custody battle triggered by competing diagnoses. First diagnosed as having mitochondrial disease at Tufts Medical Centre, Boston Children’s Hospital instead diagnosed her with psychiatric issues.
When her family disagreed and tried to return her to Tufts, the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families took custody of her, a controversial decision which drew media attention, and criticism of government interference in what was judged to be a familial matter. Justina Pelletier was released to her parents in June 2014, after 16 months in mental health facilities.
The authorities say that the attack on 19 April 2014 knocked out the hospital’s servers for a week, obstructing treatment and research. Gottesfeld has agreed to voluntary detention pending a hearing in the U.S. District Court in Boston, for which the date has not yet been set.