Cybersecurity

Twin brothers sentenced for hacking State Department

Shutterstock image (by Maksim Kabakou): digital key in a padlock keyhole, unlocking concept.

A district judge on Oct. 2 sentenced twin brothers Muneeb and Sohaib Akhter to prison for, among other things, conspiring to hack into State Department computer systems to obtain passport and visa information.

Sohaib used his position as a State Department contractor to access computer systems with the personal information of "dozens of coworkers, acquaintances, a former employer and a federal law enforcement agent investigating his crimes," according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Muneeb and others helped Sohaib try to install a surveillance device inside a State Department building, authorities said.

The brothers, who are 23 and hail from Springfield, Va., were indicted by a federal grand jury on April 30 and pleaded guilty on June 26, authorities said.

The Akhter brothers may have been targeting State’s Consular Consolidated Database, a system of about a dozen databases that handles visa and passport requests. The CCD has had its fair share of IT difficulties recently, whether a hardware jam that ground it to a near halt or a software glitch that took the system offline for three days and disrupted travel for thousands of people around the world.

The Akhters’ case highlights challenges to the federal background check process and the easy access contractors have to government systems. Around November 2013, when Muneeb was doing contract work for a data firm in Rockville, Md., authorities said he hacked into the firm’s database of federal contract information so that he and his brother could try to win bids. Despite having allegedly committed that crime, Muneeb was able to pass a government background investigation to earn a position at a defense contractor almost a year later.  

About the Author

Sean Lyngaas is an FCW staff writer covering defense, cybersecurity and intelligence issues. Prior to joining FCW, he was a reporter and editor at Smart Grid Today, where he covered everything from cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. electric grid to the national energy policies of Britain and Mexico. His reporting on a range of global issues has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Economist, The Washington Diplomat and The Washington Post.

Lyngaas is an active member of the National Press Club, where he served as chairman of the Young Members Committee. He earned his M.A. in international affairs from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and his B.A. in public policy from Duke University.

Click here for previous articles by Lyngaas, or connect with him on Twitter: @snlyngaas.


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