Law Enforcement

ISIS-linked hacker pleads guilty to targeting feds

Shutterstock image: breached lock.

A hacker from Kosovo has pleaded guilty to providing material support for the Islamic State by stealing the personally identifiable information of over 1,000 U.S. military and federal personnel, the Justice Department said.

Ardit Ferizi, 20, provided the information to the terrorist group "with the understanding that they would incite terrorist attacks against those individuals," said John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security. Carlin dubbed the case "the first of its kind, representing the nexus of the terror and cyber threats."

In June 2015, Ferizi broke into the database of an unnamed company that contained the PII of the federal employees, according to the DOJ announcement. Ferizi, who went by the hacker alias the Th3Dir3ctorY, was detained in Malaysia at the request of U.S. law enforcement in October 2015, and eventually extradited to face charges. He faces up to 20 years in prison.

The guilty plea comes as U.S. Cyber Command is waging an aggressive hacking campaign to disrupt Islamic State networks.

Hackers sympathizing with the Islamic State have gotten a lot of attention, but to date, U.S. officials and outside experts have been more concerned about their aspirations than their actual capabilities.

"They have lots of aspirations to be [a] cyber actor, but…most of our cyber activities we're doing broadly in the [Defense Department] can defend against ISIL as a cyber threat," said Lt. Gen. James "Kevin" McLaughlin, deputy of U.S. Cyber Command, using another acronym for the terrorist group.

"On the cyber threat today, the most dangerous thing we see is them trying to steal the personal information of our military members" and then trying to incite violence against the U.S. military, McLaughlin told the Wall Street Journal.

ISIS focuses much of its offensive cyber efforts toward hacking social media accounts, according to a new study from the Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology. For example, in January 2015, pro-ISIS hackers breached the Twitter and YouTube accounts of U.S. Central Command, displaying messages threatening violence against U.S. soldiers and posting military documents.

"In a few instances, ISIS has shown more sophisticated capabilities, such as the use of malware, preconfigured tools, or insider threats," the ICIT report found.

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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