- Paige Thompson, a 33-year-old former Amazon employee from Seattle who has been charged by the FBI with stealing personal data belonging to more than 100 million Capital One customers, allegedly threatened an unidentified social media company.
- The company reported the threat, which was made in May, and Seattle police had made a report about it.
- Thompson appears to have done little to hide her tracks, boasting about the hack on social media and engaging in online behavior that suggests she may have been preparing to get caught.
A former Amazon software engineer accused of a massive hack of Capital One data recently threatened to “shoot up” a California social media company, federal authorities said.
In a federal court filing Wednesday night, prosecutors revealed that in May, alleged hacker Paige Thompson made threats against an unidentified social media company. They said the company reported the threat and that Seattle police had made a report about it.
It’s another piece in the puzzle about the alleged hacker, who was arrested Monday in Seattle for allegedly obtaining personal information from more than 100 million Capital One credit applications. Unlike other hackers, Thompson did little to cover her tracks, and her online behavior suggests she may have been preparing to get caught.
Thompson, who goes by the online handle “erratic,” was well-known in Seattle’s hacker community. She lived a life of tumult, with frequent job changes, reported estrangement from family and self-described emotional problems and drug use. Her resumeeight different employers over a 12-year period, including positions with Amazon and a division of Lowe’s.
Friends and associates described Thompson as a skilled programmer and software architect whose career and behavior — oversharing in chat groups, frequent profanity, expressions of gender confusion and emotional ups and downs — mirror her online handle.
“She had a habit of openly struggling with her state of mind in public channels,” said Aife Dunne, an online friend. “It’s where her screen name comes from.”
Boasting about the hack
More than six weeks before her arrest Monday, Thompson discussed the Capital One hack online with friends in chats and in a group she created on the Slack messaging service.
Thompson dominated, sometimes monopolized chats on her favorite channel on Internet Relay Chat, a hacker mainstay, and in the Slack group she created. She was also active on Twitter. The Associated Press obtained access to the Slack group, which was deleted Tuesday, and to IRC messages dating back to February 2018.
Thompson openly discussed the hack with friends and associates on several of those channels beginning in mid-June. In April, she created the group “Seattle Warez Kiddies” on the site Meetup — the month after prosecutors say she began hacking Capital One.
Friends told the AP they didn’t believe she had carried out the Capital One hack with malicious intent or for profit.
These people said they believed the unemployed Thompson — destitute and, by her own account, grappling with serious depression — believed the hack could bring her attention, respect and a new job.
Thompson joined Amazon in 2015 to work at Amazon Web Services, a division that hosted the Capital One data she allegedly accessed illegally beginning in March.
When Thompson departed that job in 2016, she lost her apartment and moved into a group home. Thompson’s housemate, Park Quan, was also arrested Monday when agents said they found 20 illegally possessed weapons in his room, including assault-style rifles.
Thompson is in federal custody pending an Aug. 15 detention hearing. Her lawyer did not return an emailed request for comment.
While often endearing online, Thompson could also be alienating and even menacing. Members of Seattle’s “white hat” hacking community said Thompson had sometimes bombarded them with automated emails in what amounted to denial-of-service attacks.
“Off the deep end”
Friends said Thompson was estranged from her mother, with whom she had moved from Arkansas as a child, and that her father had long been out of her life.
Sarah Stensberg said her husband, Kevin, met Thompson in a coding group for young people in the Seattle area and lived with her for a while. Thompson’s abusive behavior eventually led the couple to cut off contact in 2011, she said. Prior to that, they sometimes took Thompson to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center for mental treatment.
“We’d get her into inpatient treatment, we’d visit her, and she’d seem to be doing well,” Stensberg said in an interview Tuesday. “Then she’d go off the deep end. We couldn’t deal with it anymore.”
Thompson repeatedly stalked and harassed them, the couple said, sending them multiple insulting and demeaning messages, until they moved to get away. Then, they allege, she used geolocation tracking from online postings to find their new home. Last fall, the couple obtained protection orders against Thompson, which the AP reviewed along with their petitions.
In the Slack group, Thompson wrote in late June that she was seeing a therapist at least twice a month.
“Never a moment in which my mind can just be free,” she typed, posting a photo of herself in new Armani sunglasses. After noting that she regretted her hacks and harassment of others, she wrote, “it f(asterisk)(asterisk)ing pisses me off, it pisses me off even more that im not in jail.”
Her Twitter feed also reflected struggles.
“I’m going to go check into the mental hospital for an indefinite amount of time,” she wrote in a public tweet on July 4. “I have a whole list of things that will ensure my involuntary confinement from the world. The kind that they can’t ignore or brush off onto the crisis clinic. I’m never coming back.”
Thompson, who said in chats that she had been transitioning to a woman since age 22 with hormone treatment, wrote on the Slack group that her gender transition might have contributed to her mental anguish. She often discussed her use of legal and illegal drugs online.
The subject of suicide also arose frequently.
“Ive tried to kill myself a few times,” Thompson wrote on IRC on April 19, 201.8. “I cant do it.”;/