Whitehorse man faces 22 charges for allegedly intercepting, interfering with computer data

Whitehorse man faces 22 charges for allegedly intercepting, interfering with computer data

A Whitehorse man is facing 22 criminal charges for allegedly intercepting password information on the wireless networks of nine businesses, organizations and First Nations and interfering with their computer data.

But while police allege passwords were “compromised,” they say there’s no evidence any personal or business information was stolen.

Fearon Nelson Steele, 44, was scheduled to make his first appearance on the charges in territorial court Wednesday. According to court documents, police initially charged him in June, and he faces 13 counts of unauthorized use of a computer and nine counts of mischief in relation to computer data. 

Of the 13 counts of unauthorized use of a computer, nine are related to Steele allegedly using a wireless network interface controller — basically, a device that can connect to wireless networks — between October 2018 and May 2020 to capture information about password exchanges between devices and wireless network access points.

The other unauthorized-use-of-a-computer counts relate to Steele allegedly possessing passwords “that would enable him to commit offences” with regards to computer data or systems, while mischief counts relate to “interfering with the lawful use of computer data.” 

Affected businesses and organizations include Cathway Water Resources, Macpherson Rentals, Klondike Broadcasting Company Limited, White River First Nation, Klondyke Medical Clinic, SunLife, Total North Communications, Champagne and Aishihik First Nations, and the Yukon Employees’ Union. The court documents don’t say why Steele allegedly intercepted passwords on the networks or how he allegedly interfered with computer data.

Steele, reached by email, declined comment to CBC News.

The Yukon RCMP also initially declined comment on the case Friday, citing the ongoing court process. However, in a press release Tuesday morning, police said the Whitehorse RCMP, with help from the RCMP Digital Forensic Services and the RCMP National Cybercrime Coordination Centre, “opened an investigation into a series of computer hacking” in September 2021. 

According to the press release, police opened the investigation after data was discovered on devices and computers seized as part of a firearms investigation. The data suggested more than 500 secure computer networks in the Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta and the Northwest Territories had been targeted and attempts to access the networks had occurred, the press release says, and the investigation determined that more than 300 were compromised “during the hacking.” 

“While the investigation determined that a significant number of secure computer network passwords were compromised, there was no evidence that any business or personal data was compromised or stolen from the networks,” the press release says.

Steele’s next court appearance is scheduled for August.