Featured Article

How the FBI caught the BreachForums admin

The Justice Department also said it conducted a “disruption operation” that caused BreachForums to go offline


Image Credits: Scott Olson/Getty Images / Getty Images

On Friday, the U.S. Justice Department announced that the now-arrested alleged administrator of the infamous hacking forum BreachForums facilitated the sale and purchase of private information that belonged to “millions of U.S. citizens and hundreds of U.S. and foreign companies, organizations, and government agencies.”

In a statement, prosecutors confirmed the arrest of Conor Fitzpatrick, 20, aka Pompompurin, of Peekskill, New York. Fitzpatrick is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit access device fraud, subject to a maximum of five years in prison if convicted.

In order to prove that BreachForums facilitated the sale and purchase of stolen or hacked data, FBI undercover agents purchased five sets of data: one of data stolen from an unnamed U.S. internet hosting and security services company, which contained names, addresses, phone numbers, usernames, password hashes, and email addresses for approximately 8,000 customers, as well as payment card information for 1,900 customers; another dataset stolen from an unnamed U.S.-based investment company, containing at least 5 million email addresses; one containing the private information of “large numbers of U.S. persons,” including full names, email addresses, phone numbers, home addresses, birthdates, Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, bank names, routing numbers, and account numbers; another from the same seller, which contained private information and bank account information of around 15 million U.S. persons; and one other set of data taken from a U.S. healthcare company.

The feds collected several pieces of evidence to nab Pompompurin. First they got the IP addresses that Pompompurin used to access RaidForums, the predecessor of BreachForums, which was seized by the FBI in April 2022. Nine of those IP addresses were associated with Fitzpatrick, according to his internet service provider Verizon, as FBI Special Agent John Longmire wrote in the affidavit dated March 15, two days before Fitzpatrick’s arrest.

In a spectacular snafu on the hacker’s part, Longmire wrote that the second piece of evidence came from Pompompurin himself. In a chat with the RaidForums admin, Pompompurin said he noticed a data breach posted on the site did not include “one of my old emails,” which he looked up on the legitimate data breach notification site Have I Been Pwned.

Even though Pompompurin then said “(I don’t want to share my actual email for obvious reasons, but this email seems to have the same case as mine): conorfitzpatrick02@gmail.com,” the agent wrote in the affidavit that that email address was indeed Pompompurin because the FBI obtained records from Google showing that Fitzpatrick registered that address months before that chat. The alleged hacker also had Google Pay accounts linked to both that email address as well as a newer one, “conorfitzpatrick2002@gmail.com,” both linked to a number owned by Fitzpatrick, according to the affidavit.

Furthermore, the agent wrote that he obtained more records from Google, which showed conorfitzpatrick2002@gmail.com had a recovery email address funmc59tm@gmail.com linked to an IP address registered to someone with the last name Fitzpatrick and a different phone number, which the agent said he believed belonged to Fitzpatrick’s father.

Then, according to the affidavit, Pompompurin used several VPNs to connect to his Gmail account, some of which overlap with his activity elsewhere on the internet.

The agent also said that the FBI obtained records from cryptocurrency exchange Purse.io. The company’s records revealed that four of the IP addresses used to connect to the exchange were also used to connect to the conorfitzpatrick2002@gmail.com Gmail account and Pompompurin’s RaidForums account. Moreover, that Purse.io account was registered with the name Conor Fitzpatrick and the email address “conorfitzpatrick2002@gmail.com,” the affidavit said.

Those four IP addresses, according to the agent, were owned by VPN providers, which Pompompurin also used to connect to the “conorfitzpatrick2002@gmail.com” account.

Another VPN IP address was also used to log into a Zoom account under the name “pompompurin” associated with a Riseup email address also used to register his RaidForums account, according to the affidavit.

Records from Purse.io also showed that Fitzpatrick’s account purchased “several items” and shipped them to his address with the phone number the feds had already established was his. Also seven out of nine IP addresses used to connect to Purse.io were also used to connect to Pompompurin’s account on RaidForums. And, finally, the Purse.io account “was funded exclusively by a Bitcoin address that Pompompurin had discussed in posts on RaidForums,” per the affidavit.

The evidence does not stop there. In a database of RaidForums forum activity, the feds saw that Pompompurin accessed his account from an IP address registered to Fitzpatrick’s father at the same home address previously identified by the authorities, according to the affidavit.

That same IP address was used to access an iCloud account associated with Fitzpatrick, Longmire wrote in the affidavit.

Moreover, Longmire noted that the accounts with the handle Pompompurin on RaidForums and BreachForums were likely owned by the same person, as Pompompurin wrote in a post on BreachForums: “if you used RaidForums you most likely remember me, I was one of the more active users on there,” and the new Pompompurin account on BreachForums “alluded to past activity by the pompompurin account on RaidForums.”

Finally, Longmire wrote that the FBI obtained a warrant to get Fitzpatrick’s real-time cell phone GPS location from Verizon, allowing agents to observe that Pompompurin was logged in to BreachForums while his phone’s location showed he was at his home.

The feds also surveilled Fitzpatrick at his home while agents noted Pompompurin’s account was active on the forum.

This trove of evidence allowed law enforcement to obtain a warrant to search Fitzpatrick’s house, where he agreed to speak to the agents and “admitted that he is the user of the pompompurin account,” and that “he owns and administers BreachForums and previously operated the pompompurin account on RaidForums.”

The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Fitzpatrick’s lawyer also did not respond to a request for comment.

Ironically, Fitzpatrick may have thought this day would come when he launched BreachForums. In an interview on the Data Knight website, the interviewer asked him, “Don’t you think that there’s a reason that the FBI took down RaidForums? Why would you want to bring it back up knowing that you may face that same fate whatever it [may be]?”

Pompompurin responded: “It doesn’t really bother me. If I get arrested one day it also wouldn’t surprise me, but as I said I have a trusted person who will have full access to everything needed to relaunch it without me.”

The Justice Department said in its Friday statement that it had also “conducted a disruption operation that caused BreachForums to go offline.” When reached for comment, DOJ spokesperson Joshua Stueve declined to elaborate. At the time of publication, BreachForums was inaccessible, displaying an error saying “bad gateway,” but the domain still appeared to be in the control of the site’s current administrator.

Following the Justice Department’s announcement of Fitzpatrick’s arrest, the person who took over from him, known as Baphomet, announced they would shut down the forum.

On Friday, after the affidavit was circulated online, Baphomet wrote a message on a Telegram channel, saying “the most important thing right now of our community is to be aware that the FBI is now confirmed to have access to the Breached database,” and “at this point the entire document will clearly show what I’ve said for the entirety of my time on Breached, and that you shouldn’t trust anyone to handle your own OPSEC. I never made this assumption as an admin, and no one else should have either.”

That’s why, Baphomet added, “Simply piling everyone back into the same community without any thought of how we properly move forward safely is basically a death trap.”

Do you have information about BreachForums? We’d love to hear from you. From a non-work device, you can contact Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai securely on Signal at +1 917 257 1382, or via Wickr, Telegram and Wire @lorenzofb, or email lorenzo@techcrunch.com. You can also contact TechCrunch via SecureDrop.

More TechCrunch

The European venture capital firm raised its fourth fund as fund as climate tech “comes of age.”

ETF Partners raises €284M for climate startups that will be effective quickly — not 20 years down the road

Copilot, Microsoft’s brand of generative AI, will soon be far more deeply integrated into the Windows 11 experience.

Microsoft wants to make Windows an AI operating system, launches Copilot+ PCs

“When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine.”

Scarlett Johansson says that OpenAI approached her to use her voice

Hello and welcome back to TechCrunch Space. For those who haven’t heard, the first crewed launch of Boeing’s Starliner capsule has been pushed back yet again to no earlier than…

TechCrunch Space: Star(side)liner

When I attended Automate in Chicago a few weeks back, multiple people thanked me for TechCrunch’s semi-regular robotics job report. It’s always edifying to get that feedback in person. While…

These 81 robotics companies are hiring

The top vehicle safety regulator in the U.S. has launched a formal probe into an April crash involving the all-electric VinFast VF8 SUV that claimed the lives of a family…

VinFast crash that killed family of four now under federal investigation

When putting a video portal in a public park in the middle of New York City, some inappropriate behavior will likely occur. The Portal, the vision of Lithuanian artist and…

NYC-Dublin real-time video portal reopens with some fixes to prevent inappropriate behavior

Longtime New York-based seed investor, Contour Venture Partners, is making progress on its latest flagship fund after lowering its target. The firm closed on $42 million, raised from 64 backers,…

Contour Venture Partners, an early investor in Datadog and Movable Ink, lowers the target for its fifth fund

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

1 day ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back