The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation has collaborated with Filipino authorities to apprehend a group of hackers with possible ties to a Saudi Arabian terrorist group.
The cybercriminal ring drew the attention of authorities after several U.S. telecommunication providers – including AT&T – became aware that their private branch exchange systems may have been infiltrated by hackers. According to the Filipino Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, the illicit activity garnered nearly $2 million in revenues from AT&T alone.
Company officials would not corroborate this figure, according to the New York Times, nor would they reveal how many customers were affected by the malevolent practice. In fact, AT&T asserted that its network was “neither targeted nor breached by hackers.” However, the company insists customers have been reimbursed for any discrepancies.
According to the Times, hackers likely favored a strategy known as remote toll fraud, which involves targeting individual telephone accounts that are protected by weak password. Once they have gained access to the system, cybercriminals often make long-distance calls and divert the associated revenue to co-conspirators.
In this particular case, emerging evidence suggests that these fees were used to fund the activities of terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah.
The FBI has been collaborating with Philippine authorities since 1999 throughout the investigation of “incessant hacking of telecommunication companies.” Authorities also suggested that they have gathered a substantial “paper trail” of banking transactions that link Paul Michael Kwan – one of the four hackers arrested last week – to known Jemaah Islamiyah member Muhammad Zamir.
“Revenues derived from the hacking activities of the Filipino-based hackers were diverted to the account of the terrorists, who paid the Filipino hackers on a commission basis via local banks,” CIDG officials reported.
According to police, Zamir was previously arrested by the FBI in 2007 and later implicated as the primary source of funding for a November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai that killed 166 people.
Filipino authorities are hoping the latest incident serves as a “wake-up call” to legislators that may expedite the passage of a bill that will allow for more proactive pursuit of cybercriminals that rely on the country as a base of operations.
These events may also reverberate through the global information security community. Although AT&T has chosen to distance itself from the controversy, federal officials cannot and should not ignore the matter. The FBI’s multi-year investigation has revealed that data security is not merely an issue of consumer protection, but also a potential counterterrorism strategy.
Security News from SimplySecurity.com by Trend Micro