Judge rejects claim by attorneys for former Franklin Regional student charged in cyberattack
Evidence collected against a former high school student charged with launching a series of cyber attacks in 2016 that disabled computer systems throughout Westmoreland County can be used at her trial, a judge ruled on Wednesday.
Common Pleas Judge Tim Krieger rejected a defense claim that the computers and internet accounts of Michaela G. King, now 21, of Murrysville were legal as investigators probed why school and government systems crashed.
County prosecutors contend King, then an 18-year-old senior at Franklin Regional High School, bought a program and uploaded it to flood the school’s computer system with data, police said.
She was charged with two felony counts for the unlawful use of a communication device to disrupt computer functions.
Because the school used centralized servers provided by the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit, computer systems at Derry Area, Greater Latrobe, Greensburg Salem, Ligonier Valley, Kiski Area, Jeannette, Burrell, Monessen, Greensburg Central Catholic and Hempfield Area school districts, as well as the county government and the Diocese of Greensburg, were disrupted during three cyber attacks.
During an interrogation at the school in November 2016, investigators said King confessed to accessing her personal PayPal account on a school computer to buy a $20 computer program used to launch the attacks.
King’s defense claimed police improperly accessed her private online Google account she used at the school. Information from that account pointed investigators to websites King visited on her personal computers, the defense argued. Meanwhile, King’s lawyers also sought to bar from evidence information she gave to police during a meeting with investigators at the school.
Krieger ruled both the computer search and interrogation of King were legal.
The search of her online account was permitted by the school’s computer policy, the judge said.
“As such, the search and seizure of defendant’s internet browsing history by Franklin Regional officials was supported by the requisite reasonable suspicion and the defendant abandoned any particular privacy interest she may have had in the information stored on her Google account by having it set to automatically log in,” Krieger ruled.
King is free on a $10,000 unsecured bond. A date for her trial has not been scheduled.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, [email protected] or via Twitter .