John Rivello, 29 years old of Maryland, is currently facing charges for sending a flashing GIF file to victim Kurt Eichenwald, who is epileptic.
A whole new level of accessibility and information sharing has been introduced along with the Internet and social media. Cyber crimes, such as bullying and stalking, are more prevalent than ever before. It’s now easier for predators to assume all the information needed to attack a victim with a few simple keystrokes. And, fortunately, it’s also easier for law enforcement to catch such cyber predators.
John Rivello, 29 years old of Maryland, is currently facing charges for sending a flashing GIF file to his victim, Journalist Kurt Eichenwald, who is epileptic. The file was said to be seizure inducing, and sending it, very purposeful. FBI agents made the arrest earlier this month and pinned Rivello with cyber stalking. Last week, he was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The case will be treated as a hate crime, because of Eichenwald’s Jewish heritage, which investigators believe to be part of why Rivello decided to target the man. Eichenwald had been a fairly vocal critic of President Donald Trump throughout the election and this political views may have also motivated Rivello.
Before trying to induce a seizure, Rivello began to send harassing communications to Eichenwald in late 2016. Rivello bought a Tracfone SIM card that he left unregistered and started using an iPhone with the same SIM card to send the messages. He also opened a Twitter account with the handle @jew_goldstein to taunt Eichenwald.
In mid-December 2016, after he became aware of his target’s medical issues, @jew_goldstein tweeted the flashing GIF file to Eichenwald. Eichenwald indeed began to seizure upon receipt of the file, and his wife had to move him away from his computer to halt the episode. She immediately responded to the tweet, indicating she had the person’s information and had called the police to report the assault.
Eichenwald told the Dallas Police Department’s cyber crimes unit about the incident, and soon the police department and the FBI teamed up to take on the case. They subpoenaed Twitter for the account information associated with @jew_goldstein and using the contact information tied to the handle were able to link it back to Rivello. AT&T also helped investigators, telling them that while the SIM card was left unregistered, it was tied to an iPhone with an associated iCloud account. In the iCloud was everything law enforcement needed to make the arrest and charge Rivello with the crimes.
According to court records, Rivello’s iCloud account contained indisputable evidence, including an unmodified version of the GIF file he sent to his victim along with a photo of the man holding his Maryland driver’s license. It also included screengrabs of articles about flashing lights causing seizures in those with epilepsy apparently inadvertently saved during Rivello’s research, along with numerous tweets sent to the victim. As if that wasn’t creepy enough, Rivello’s account also featured screengrabs of Eichenwald’s altered Wikipedia page, which listed his date of death as December 16, 2016, and his hometown as Jew York City, Jew York. Needless to say, the arrest was an easy one to make.