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Wednesday, February 28, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, February 28, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Charges Unsealed in Va. Against Syrian Hackers

(CN) - Three members of what is described as a Syrian "hacker collective" have been charged with hijacking the websites and social media platforms of prominent U.S. entities, including the executive office of the president.

In unsealing the two criminal complaints on Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ivan Davis said based on a motion from the government, it appeared "there no longer exists a necessity to keep the criminal complaint and affidavit sealed."

Arrest warrants have now been issued for all three defendants.

According to court documents, some filed in the Alexandria, Va. Federal Court as long ago as June 2014, Amad Umar Agha, Firas Dardar, and Peter Romar engaged in a conspiracy targeting websites on behalf of the Syrian Electronic Army, a group of hackers that supports the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Among the computer systems affected by the electronic attacks were those of the Executive Office of the President, which was targeted in 2011, and a U.S. Marine Corps recruitment website that was highjacked in 2013.

Federal prosecutors claim they and other sites became targets because the Syrian Electronic Army considered them to be antagonistic toward the Syrian government.

Affidavits accompanying the criminal complaints say Agha, 22, and known online as "The Pro," and Dardar, 27, began collecting usernames and passwords in 2011 that gave them the ability to deface websites, redirect domains to sites controlled by the conspirators, steal e-mail, and hijack social media accounts.

To obtain the login information they used a technique called "spear-phishing," where they tricked people who had privileged access to their organizations' websites and social media channels into volunteering sensitive information by posing as a legitimate entity.

In a related action, the FBI on Tuesday added Agha and Dardar - both of whom are believed to be in Syria - to its Cyber's Most Wanted list.

The Bureau is offering a reward of up to $100,000 each for information that leads to their arrest; anyone with information is asked to contact the FBI or the nearest U.S. Embassy or consulate. Tips can also be submitted online at tips.fbi.gov.

Dardar, known online as "The Shadow," also worked with Peter "Pierre" Romar, 36, on a scheme beginning in 2013 to extort U.S. businesses for profit, the government said.

According to the complaint, the pair would hack into the victims' computers and then threaten to damage computers, and delete or sell the data unless they were paid a ransom.

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