US charges three Syrian Electronic Army suspects

SEA has been linked to a number of cybercriminal campaigns and now three suspects may pay the price.

US law enforcement has charged three suspects believed to be part of the hacktivist group the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA).

On Tuesday, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) revealed in two unsealed criminal complaints the three Syrian nationals have been charged with multiple offences related to computer hacking.

In addition, two fugitives have been added to the FBI's "Most wanted" list, according to a DoJ press release. However, they are believed to be in Syria and out of reach of law enforcement.

SEA first surfaced in 2011. The group claims to support the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and according to US prosecutors, the suspects are all members of the SEA and would systematically target any organisation deemed in opposition to the Assad regime.

SEA has been linked to the defacement of websites and damaging computer systems and networks including those of the Executive Office of the President (EOP) and US Marine Corps and military. In addition, the hacktivist group took responsibility for a hoax bomb threat message sent from the compromised Twitter account of The Associated Press.

Microsoft, Skype, eBay and PayPal were all also previous victims of the hacking group.

In the US District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia, 22-year-old Ahmad Umar Agha, also known as "The Pro," and Firas "The Shadow" Dardar, 27, were charged with engaging in a terrorism hoaxes, attempting to incite mutiny in US armed forces, unauthorised access to and damage to computer systems, access device fraud and the "illicit possession of authentication features."

Dadar and another suspect, 36-year-old Peter Romar, were also charged with unauthorized access to and damage of computer systems, extortion, money laundering, wire fraud, violations of the Syrian Sanctions Regulations and unlawful communication.

Arrest warrants have been issued for each suspect.

While the SEA insists its cyberactivities are conducted in support of the Syrian president, Assistant Attorney General Carlin disagrees, claiming the group also uses extortion to "line their own pockets" at the expense of innocents across the world -- a case which reveals the line between your average homegrown hacker, politics and national security is becoming "increasingly blurry."

In relation to the two additional Syrian nationals now wanted by US law enforcement, the FBI is offering a reward of $100,000 for information leading to their capture.

Assistant Director in Charge Paul Abbate commented:

"These three members of the Syrian Electronic Army targeted and compromised computer systems in order to provide support to the Assad regime as well as for their own personal monetary gain through extortion.

As a result of a thorough cyber investigation, FBI agents and analysts identified the perpetrators and now continue to work with our domestic and international partners to ensure these individuals face justice in the United States."

The case is being investigated by the FBI, with assistance from the NASA Office of the Inspector General, Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security and other law enforcement agencies.

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