Three suspects allegedly affiliated with the group of hackers known as the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) were charged in absentia in U.S. Federal Court on Tuesday for conspiring to attack websites and networks belonging to American and foreign agencies, the FBI has announced.
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The three men are Ahmad Umar Agha, 22, known on the Web as “Th3 Pro”; Firas Dardar, 27 (also known as “The Shadow”); and German-based Peter Romar, 36.
They were charged with attacking systems in the White House, defacing the recruiting site of the U.S. Marines Corps, and, in their most effective attack, compromising the Twitter account of The Associated Press and using it to tweet that bombs had exploded in the White House and wounded President Barack Obama. Those tweets in April 2013 caused U.S. stocks to plunge and temporarily wiped some $136 billion in equity market value.
The FBI has added Agha and Dardar – who are believed to be in Syria – to its list of most wanted cybercriminals, and has offered a $100,000 reward for anyone providing information that leads to their capture.
According to the indictment, Agha and Dardar had collected usernames and passwords that allowed them to vandalize websites and to redirect traffic from legitimate websites to sites controlled by the SEA. They also gained control of social media accounts by conducting “spear-phishing” attacks, i.e., sending company executives emails from a source they were ostensibly familiar with that led them to reveal sensitive information like usernames and passwords.
According to the FBI announcement, in addition to serving the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Dardar worked with Romar to extort American businesses by breaking into their computer systems and threatening to erase or sell information, unless a ransom was paid.
Assistant Attorney General John Carlin said, “While some of the activity sought to harm the economic and national security of the United States in the name of Syria, these detailed allegations reveal that the members also used extortion to try to line their own pockets at the expense of law-abiding people all over the world.”