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AT&T hackers have terrorist connections, say Philippines police

The hackers in the Philippines were raising funds for a terrorist group in Saudi Arabia

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and police in the Philippines have jointly busted a ring of four alleged hackers in Manila with connections to a terrorist group in Saudi Arabia, the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the Philippines police said last week.

FBI agents, who have been investigating hacking of telecommunication companies in the U.S. and in the country since 1999, have uncovered a "paper trail" of various bank transactions allegedly linking the local hackers to the cell in Saudi Arabia, whose activities include financing terrorist activities, CIDG said in a statement.

The operation last week followed a complaint from AT&T, which suffered losses of up to US$2 million as a result of a hack of its system, the Philippines police agency said.

The Philippines police said that Muhammad Zamir, a Jemaah Islamiyah member, paid the suspects to hack the trunk-line of different telecommunication companies including AT&T. Revenue derived from the hacking was diverted to the account of the terrorists, who paid the Filipino hackers on a commission basis through local banks, CIDG said.

Jemaah Islamiyah is an Islamic militant group that has been active in South East Asia and is said to be linked to some terrorist attacks in the region, including the Bali bombing in 2002.

AT&T and the FBI were not immediately available for comment. AT&T said last week that there was an attempt to obtain information on a number of AT&T customer accounts, but said it did not believe that the perpetrators of the attack obtained access to users' online accounts.

Zamir was arrested in Italy in 2007 by FBI operatives but his group continues to be active, and was later tagged by the FBI to be the financial source of the terrorist attack in Mumbai, India on Nov. 26, 2008. After Zamir's arrest, an unnamed Saudi national took charge of the operation of the group, and also maintained links with the group of hackers in Manila, CIDG said.

In March, FBI requested the assistance of CIDG Anti-Transnational and Cyber Crime Division after it found that the terrorist group had targeted AT&T in the U.S., and the same group of Filipino hackers was involved, CIDG said.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com


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