Home Technology Identity Thief Lived as a Different Man for 33 Years

Identity Thief Lived as a Different Man for 33 Years


It’s been a week since the world avoided a potentially catastrophic cyberattack. On March 29, Microsoft developer Andres Freund disclosed his discovery of a backdoor in XZ Utils, a compression tool widely used in Linux distributions and thus countless computer systems worldwide. The backdoor was inserted into the open source tool by someone operating under the persona “Jia Tan” after years of patient work building a reputation as a trustworthy volunteer developer. Security experts believe Jia Tan is the work of a nation-state actor, with clues largely pointing to Russia, although definitive attribution for the attack is still outstanding.

In early 2022, a hacker operating under the name “P4x” took down the internet of North Korea, after the country’s hackers had targeted him. This week, WIRED revealed P4x’s true identity as Alejandro Caceres, a 38-year-old Colombian American. Following his successful attack on North Korea, Caceres pitched the US military on a “special forces”-style offensive hacking team that would carry out operations similar to the one that made P4x famous. The Pentagon eventually declined, but Caceres has launched a startup, Hyperion Gray, and plans to further pursue his controversial approach to cyberwarfare.

In mid-February, millions of people lost internet access after three undersea cables in the Arabian Sea were damaged. Some blamed Houthi rebels in Yemen, who had been attacking ships in the region, but the group denied it had sabotaged the cables. But the rebel attacks are still likely to blame—albeit, in a bizarre way. A WIRED analysis of satellite images, maritime data, and more found that the cables were likely damaged by the trailing anchor of a cargo ship that the Houthi rebels had bombed. The ship drifted for two weeks before finally sinking, crossing paths with the cables at the time they were damaged.

The myth that Google Chrome’s Incognito mode provides adequate privacy protections can finally be put to rest. As part of a settlement over Google’s Incognito privacy claims and practices, the company has agreed to delete “billions” of records collected while users browsed in Incognito mode. It will also further clarify how much user data can be collected by Google and third parties while Incognito is enabled, and take further steps to protect user privacy. There are other privacy-focused browsers that can replace Chrome. But if you’re still using it, make sure to update it to patch some serious security flaws.

But that’s not all. Each week, we round up the security and privacy news we didn’t cover in depth ourselves. Click the headlines to read the full stories. And stay safe out there.

A 58-year-old hospital systems administrator pleaded guilty this week to US federal charges after he was caught using another man’s name for more than 30 years. Matthew David Keirans allegedly stole the identity of William Woods in 1988, when the two men worked at a hot dog cart in Albuquerque, New Mexico, according to the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Iowa. Over the decades, Keirans obtained employment, bank accounts, loans, and insurance, and paid taxes, under the Woods name. Keirans even had a child whose last name is Woods.

The real William Woods, meanwhile, reportedly learned that someone else was using his identity in 2019. At the time, Woods was unhoused and living in Los Angeles. He contacted a bank where “William Woods” had an account, providing his real Social Security card and California ID card to prove his identity. However, he could not answer the security questions to gain access. The bank called Keirans—who was pretending to be Woods—and Keirans convinced the bank employee that the real Woods should not have access to the accounts. The Los Angeles Police Department then arrested the real Woods and charged him with identity theft after Keirans provided officers with false documents and information.

In a nightmarish twist, during judicial proceedings, the real Woods accurately maintained that “William Donald Woods” was his true identity, prompting the court to order him to a mental institution. The real Woods ultimately spent 428 days in jail and 147 days in a mental hospital before his release.

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