CLEVELAND (WJW) — A former Cleveland Public Power worker has admitted to illegally installing devices on his coworkers’ computers that recorded everything they typed.
John Pelton, 55, of Avon Lake, is a former operator for the utility company. He pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of attempting to access a secure computer and obtain information and providing false statements to a government official, according to a news release from the office of Michelle M. Baeppler, U.S. attorney for Ohio’s Northern District federal court.
Pelton was accused of installing two keyloggers that he had purchased on eBay onto his coworkers’ computers in January 2021. Keyloggers are physical devices that record keystrokes and can capture information like login credentials or messages that a hacker can later retrieve remotely over Wi-Fi.
The keyloggers were installed on two computers in a control room accessible only with an access badge — one of which collected data on the electrical system’s use, according to the release. Pelton would have been able to capture an administrator’s password and “access features that he otherwise was unable to access,” court documents show.
“The operators at the utility have the capability to turn the power on and off throughout the network, and, if done incorrectly or inappropriately, an operator could damage the transmission system, injure employees and possibly negatively impact the energy grid,” reads the release.
Pelton later told FBI agents in a May interview that he was unfamiliar with keyloggers or what they did. He also denied researching them and said he couldn’t remember purchasing them. Court documents showed Pelton was knowingly lying to the officers, the release states.
Pelton is set for sentencing on Nov. 16. He faces up to eight years in prison on the false statement charge and one year in prison on the cybercrime charge.