The Syrian Electronic Army was careless with Gmail, Facebook

Investigators easily connected alleged SEA members with their real identities

If you're a hacker, it's a good idea to stay away from Facebook and Gmail to communicate with your colleagues.

Three men, who allegedly were part of a multi-year hacking campaign executed by the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), left a long digital trail that didn't make them hard to identify, according to court documents.

The U.S. Department of Justice unsealed charges on Tuesday against the men, who are accused of hacking companies and defacing websites.

The SEA, which emerged around July 2011, claimed credit for prominent hacks that sought to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The group targeted the White House, Harvard University, Reuters, the Associated Press, NASA and Microsoft, among others.

Those charged are Ahmad Umar Agha, 22, of Damascus, Syria; Firas Dardar, 27, of Homs, Syria, and Peter Romar, 36, of Walterhausen, Germany. They were charged in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia with multiple conspiracies related to computer hacking, prosecutors said in a news release.

Agha and Dardar are believed to be in Syria, which may make it difficult for them to face trial in the U.S. The FBI has added them to its Cyber's Most Wanted list, offering a US$100,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest.

The Washington Post, citing U.S. officials, reported on Tuesday that Romar was arrested in Germany, and the government will seek his extradition.

The group was accused of breaching organizations primarily through targeted emails that sought to trick recipients into divulging account credentials, a scheme known as phishing.

Their attacks were frequently successful. In 2011 and 2012, the SEA posted fraudulent content on the websites of Reuters and the Washington Post.

The SEA also briefly took over the Associated Press' Twitter account in April 2013, posting a bogus tweet that the White House had been bombed and that U.S. President Barack Obama was injured.

Much of their other activity was centered on punishing media outlets for their coverage of the Syrian conflict. The SEA defaced Web pages and at times directed major websites to ones they controlled.

Such high-profile targets brought the group under intense scrutiny, though, and the criminal complaints made public on Tuesday show they took few precautions to mask their identities.

Agha, whom investigators allege is "The Pro," registered a Gmail account in November 2010 with a phone number.

"This email account was used to receive stolen credentials from victims, to register domains used by the conspiracy and to communicate with co-conspirators," the criminal complaint reads.

The Gmail account also contained an email with Agha's real identification documents along with wedding photos.

Dardar, who is believed to have used the nickname "The Shadow," exchanged 218 emails with Agha, also through a Gmail account he registered, prosecutors said.

Peter Romar allegedly maintained a Gmail account under the name "Pierre Romar" and a Facebook account under the same alias. Investigators found a copy of his German passport in his Gmail, job applications and messages to Dardar sent through Facebook, the complaint says.

Law enforcement can get access to online accounts of suspects by obtaining warrants from a court.

Private computer security companies had also been unraveling the digital trail around the same time as law enforcement.

IntelCrawler, a firm now owned by InfoArmor, published an extensive 94-page report on the SEA, which contained detailed technical documentation of The Pro and The Shadow.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Win pair of MOMENTUM True Wireless

Three PC World readers will be in the running to take home a pair of MOMENTUM True Wireless which are meticulously crafted with every fine listening detail considered. *T&C's Apply

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Aysha Strobbe

Microsoft Office 365/HP Spectre x360

Microsoft Office continues to make a student’s life that little bit easier by offering reliable, easy to use, time-saving functionality, while continuing to develop new features that further enhance what is already a formidable collection of applications

Michael Hargreaves

Microsoft Office 365/Dell XPS 15 2-in-1

I’d recommend a Dell XPS 15 2-in-1 and the new Windows 10 to anyone who needs to get serious work done (before you kick back on your couch with your favourite Netflix show.)

Maryellen Rose George

Brother PT-P750W

It’s useful for office tasks as well as pragmatic labelling of equipment and storage – just don’t get too excited and label everything in sight!

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?