Cybersecurity

DOJ charges three Syrian Electronic Army hackers

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Three Syrian nationals with ties to the Syrian Electronic Army have been charged with multiple hacking-related conspiracies, and warrants have been issued for their arrest, according to two U.S. Eastern District Court of Virginia criminal complaints that were unsealed March 22.

Ahmad Agha, 22, known under the online alias "Th3 Pr0," and Firas Dardar, 27, known under the online alias "The Shadow," were charged with criminal conspiracy that include "engaging in a hoax regarding a terrorist attack; attempting to cause mutiny of the U.S. armed forces; illicit possession of authentication features; access device fraud; unauthorized access to, and damage of, computers; and unlawful access to stored communications."

The two have been added to the FBI's Cyber Most Wanted list and are believed to be based within Syria. The FBI is offering a $100,000 reward for information that leads to their arrest.

Dardar and Peter Romar, 36, were separately charged with criminal conspiracies relating to "unauthorized access to, and damage of, computers and related extortionate activities; receiving the proceeds of extortion; money laundering; wire fraud; violations of the Syrian Sanctions Regulations; and unlawful interstate communications," according to the Justice Department.

The Syrian Electronic Army, which is alleged to have been involved in numerous infamous cyber breaches since 2011, has been described by the FBI as "a group of computer hackers responsible for computer intrusions intended to punish perceived detractors of" embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The cyber syndicate allegedly used spear-phishing techniques to compromise security systems of the U.S. government, media organizations, private-sector companies and social media pages, including Marines.com, The New York Post, NPR, Vice and The Onion among others.

Additionally, the group allegedly stole usernames and passwords, hijack email and social media accounts and hacked highly trafficked websites. Perhaps its most high-profile alleged hacking took place in 2013 when the group breached the Associated Press Twitter account and tweeted that President Barack Obama had been injured in an explosion at the White House, which resulted in a brief but sharp drop in the U.S. stock market.

Court documents reveal that the three were caught when investigators linked a Gmail account, an IP address belonging to Syrian Telecom and a mobile phone number. Gmail correspondences addressed to and from both Agha and Dardar, revealed images of the hackers and Google searches and digital forensics left by the breaches were traced to the Gmail account and IP addresses. Hacks of LinkedIn and Washington Post Live were also traced to the IP addresses also registered to Syrian Telecom.

About the Author

Chase Gunter is a staff writer covering civilian agencies, workforce issues, health IT, open data and innovation.

Prior to joining FCW, Gunter reported for the C-Ville Weekly in Charlottesville, Va., and served as a college sports beat writer for the South Boston (Va.) News and Record. He started at FCW as an editorial fellow before joining the team full-time as a reporter.

Gunter is a graduate of the University of Virginia, where his emphases were English, history and media studies.

Click here for previous articles by Gunter, or connect with him on Twitter: @WChaseGunter

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