Ex-HHS cyber chief gets 25 years for child porn

A former acting director of cybersecurity for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was sentenced Monday to 25 years in prison on child pornography charges.

Starting in March 2012, Timothy DeFoggi used an underground online forum to view, trade and discuss child pornography, according to the Department of Justice. On the site’s message boards, DeFoggi chatted about his desire to violently rape and murder children. In December of the same year, the FBI shut down the site.

“Using the same technological expertise he employed as acting director of cybersecurity at HHS, DeFoggi attempted to sexually exploit children and traffic in child pornography through an anonymous computer network of child predators,” said Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell, in a statement.

DeFoggi was convicted in August 2014.

It’s not clear how much of DeFoggi’s illicit activities overlapped with his time as HHS’s cybersecurity chief, but he was listed in the 2014 HHS budget request as in charge of the agency’s IT security as recently as 2013.

Five other members of the same website have also been convicted on child pornography charges. They all received a dozen or more years in prison.

The forum used the online anonymity communications network Tor to conceal its members' activities. Common Internet browsers cannot reach such hidden sites.

“Dangerous criminals cannot be allowed to operate online with impunity,” Caldwell said. “Today’s sentence shows that the Department of Justice will bring criminals and child predators to justice, even when they employ anonymous networks like Tor.”

Federal law enforcement officials have been increasingly targeting websites using the Tor network to conduct illegal activities. In early November, a coordinated global effort brought down hundreds of sites, the largest crackdown to date.

DOJ also announced in early December it is launching a dedicated cybersecurity unit within its criminal division to help navigate complex cyber crime investigations.  

“Those who think they are acting anonymously on the Internet will be found and held accountable,” said U.S. Attorney Deborah Gilg of the District of Nebraska, who worked on DeFoggi’s case.