New York Man Sentenced To 24 Months in Prison For Internet Offenses, Including "Doxing," "Swatting," Making a False Bomb Threat, and Cyber-Stalking
WASHINGTON – Mir Islam, 22, of New York, N.Y., was sentenced today to 24 months in prison on three federal charges stemming from a conspiracy to commit various crimes related to the “swatting” and “doxing” of dozens of victims, and from a false bomb threat made against a university in Arizona and a pattern of online harassment constituting cyber-stalking against a university student, all occurring between February and September 2013.
The sentencing was announced by U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips of the District of Columbia, U.S. Attorney John S. Leonardo of the District of Arizona, and Paul M. Abbate, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.
Islam pleaded guilty on July 6, 2015, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, to a total of three charges. They included one count of conspiracy to commit a range of federal offenses, including identity theft; access device fraud; social security number misuse; computer fraud; wire fraud; assaulting federal officials; and interstate transmission of threats. The other charges included one count of threatening and conveying false information concerning the use of explosives and one count of cyber-stalking.
In his guilty plea, Islam admitted to “swatting” and “doxing” numerous individuals, to communicating a false shooting and bomb threat on a university campus in Arizona, and to committing a pattern of online harassment against a university student. “Swatting” is the act of placing emergency 9-1-1 type calls to police departments, usually through Internet-based telecommunication relay services, to make false claims of homicides or other assaultive or criminal conduct by, or against, other targeted individuals at the locations of those individuals. These false 9-1-1 communications are intended to result in, and usually did result in, a tactical police response, including SWAT teams, to the targeted, unsuspecting victims’ residences. “Doxing” is the act of gathering, by licit and illicit means, and posting on the Internet personal identifying information (“PII”) and other sensitive information about an individual, including, for example, addresses, dates of birth, social security numbers, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, credit information, employers, and details regarding the individual’s children and other family members.
“The crimes committed by this defendant violated the privacy of dozens of people, fostered identity theft, and endangered the safety of many others,” said U.S. Attorney Phillips. “Mir Islam put people at risk on the Internet and in their own homes, placed responding police officers at risk, created a dangerous situation on a college campus, caused substantial emotional distress to numerous victims, and diverted law enforcement from work they could be doing to protect the public. Today’s sentence reflects the seriousness of his crimes and hopefully will deter others from similar actions.”
“This crime not only diverted first responders from actual life-threatening emergencies and wasted their valuable time and resources, but it also caused severe emotional distress to a large number of victims,” said U.S. Attorney Leonardo. “We hope this prosecution will deter others from engaging in similar dangerous and criminal behavior in the future.”
“Making false threats diverts critical law enforcement resources, and places first responders and the public at significant risk of physical injury and harm, which is unacceptable,” said Assistant Director in Charge Abbate. “The FBI takes ‘swatting’ and ‘doxing’ attacks very seriously because such illegal conduct jeopardizes public safety and places innocent people in harm’s way by exposing private and personal information. Working closely with our law enforcement partners, the FBI continues to refine technological capabilities and investigative techniques to prevent these types of crimes, and to track down criminals who commit them.”
According to court documents, Islam and his co-conspirators “swatted” and “doxed” numerous individuals from February through August 2013. Islam and his co-conspirators committed the doxing and swatting to entertain themselves, to exact revenge for official conduct they found objectionable, to express animus toward certain victims, and for their own notoriety. The investigation is continuing.
Swatting: “Swatting” in many instances is an assault with a deadly weapon in which the police are used as proxies to commit the assault. By definition, the crime entails an armed police response. When the responding officers are threatened in the fake 9-1-1 communications with physical harm or death if they respond, as some were by Islam and his co-conspirators, the officers invariably arrive at the premises in force, with guns drawn and trained on the premises and its occupants. The prospect for injuries or fatalities in such a police response is manifest. According to the government’s evidence, Islam and his co-conspirators swatted at least 20 celebrities and state and federal officials. For example, a former member of Congress from Michigan was swatted because of federal legislation he sponsored; a former State Representative, who is now a member of Congress, was swatted because of anti-swatting state legislation he sought to enact, and an Assistant United States Attorney was swatted in retaliation for a particular prosecution he participated in.
Doxing: According to the government’s evidence, Islam and his co-conspirators posted the PII of at least 50 celebrities and state and federal officials on different websites that all shared the domain name “Exposed,” which were accessible to anyone, anywhere. The natural, inevitable, and intended consequence of this publication of names, social security numbers, dates of birth, addresses, credit reports, and the like, was the use of that information by countless others to illicitly obtain credit cards and other finance-related accounts using the identities of the doxing victims, causing many victims to suffer continuing credit issues. The publication of the victims’ personal identifying information also revealed to any other would-be harassers or assailants how and where to contact the victims.
Additionally, according to the government’s evidence, on March 22, 2013, Islam separately falsely reported a shooting and explosives incident on the campus of a university located in Arizona. Using a 9-1-1 Internet relay system, Islam reported that a man on campus had a gun and a rifle and was shooting people on campus. Islam further stated that the man was shooting up the area and that he had explosives and was going to blow up buildings. In response to Islam’s false report, the local police, university police, and the FBI responded to the campus to investigate, including SWAT Teams and a Police Department Bomb Squad. The campus was placed in lockdown, with flash text messaging sent to the student population advising of a potential active shooter situation.
Islam made the false shooting and explosives report as part of Islam’s cyber-stalking of a student attending that university. Over the course of several months after the false bomb threat, according to the government’s evidence, Islam repeatedly called or sent text messages to this student and some of her friends, occasionally threatening them. Islam impersonated state and federal law enforcement officials to try to collect information about the student. Islam further acquired unauthorized access to the student’s e-mail and social media accounts, and then downloaded information from those accounts and changed the passwords to the accounts, thereby denying the student access. Islam created a social media account in which he assumed a false identity, including photographs of someone other than Islam, pretending to be a student attending the student’s university. Islam used this account and identity to attempt to befriend the student. Islam’s prolonged harassment of the student caused the student to suffer substantial emotional distress.
Islam, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Bangladesh, was arrested in September 2013 and has been in custody in this case since July 2015. In addition to the prison time, the Honorable Randolph D. Moss ordered Islam to be placed on three years of supervised release following the prison term; during that time, Islam must agree to computer monitoring and other conditions.
The investigation was conducted by the FBI’s Washington Field Office. Assistance was provided by the FBI’s Phoenix, New York and Los Angeles Field Offices; the United States Secret Service’s Boston Field Office, and the Los Angeles, Boston, and Fairfax County, Va., Police Departments. The Department of Justice’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section (CCIPS) also provided support.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Corbin A. Weiss of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. Assistance was provided by Assistant U.S. Attorney Beverly Anderson of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona.