ISIL-Linked Hacker Pleads Guilty to Providing Material Support
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Ardit Ferizi, aka Th3Dir3ctorY, 20, a citizen of Kosovo, pleaded guilty today to charges of providing material support to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated foreign terrorist organization, and accessing a protected computer without authorization and obtaining information.
“Ferizi endangered the lives of over 1,000 Americans,” said Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Cyber terrorism has become an increasingly prevalent and serious threat here in America, both to individuals and businesses. However, cyber terrorist are no different from other terrorists: No matter where they hide, we will track them down and seek to bring them to the United States to face justice.”
“Ferizi admitted to stealing the personally identifiable information of over 1,000 U.S. servicemembers and federal employees, and providing it to ISIL with the understanding that they would incite terrorist attacks against those individuals,” said John Carlin, Assistant Attorney General for National Security. “The case against Ferizi is the first of its kind, representing the nexus of the terror and cyber threats. The National Security Division will continue to use an all-tools approach to combat this ever-evolving blended threat, and we will identify, disrupt and prosecute any individual who provides material support to ISIL, no matter how they do so.”
“Ardit Ferizi launched a cyber attack to gain access to the identities of U.S. military personnel, which he shared with members of ISIL in an attempt to incite terror attacks,” said Paul M. Abbate, Assistant Director in Charge pf the FBI’s Washington Field Office. “No matter how a person supports a terrorist group like ISIL, whether on the battlefield or in the cyber world, the FBI will identify, disrupt and bring them to justice for placing lives at risk.”
Ferizi, who was detained by Malaysian authorities on a provisional arrest warrant on behalf of the United States, was charged by criminal complaint on Oct. 6, 2015. The criminal complaint was unsealed on Oct. 15, 2015. Ferizi subsequently waived extradition.
In a statement of facts filed with the plea agreement, Ferizi admitted that on or about June 13, 2015, he gained administrator-level access to a server that maintained the website of a victim company located in the United States, which also contained databases with personally identifiable information (PII) belonging to tens of thousands of the victim company’s customers. Between June and August 2015, Ferizi provided unlawfully-obtained PII to ISIL member Junaid Hussain, aka Abu Hussain al-Britani, he admitted. According to the statement of facts, on Aug. 11, 2015, in the name of the Islamic State Hacking Division (ISHD), Hussain posted a tweet that contained a document with the PII of approximately 1,300 U.S. military and other personnel that Ferizi had taken from the victim company and provided to Hussain. The document stated, in part, that “we are in your emails and computer systems, watching and recording your every move, we have your names and addresses, we are in your emails and social media accounts, we are extracting confidential data and passing on your personal information to the soldiers of the khilafah, who soon with the permission of Allah will strike at your necks in your own lands!” Ferizi admitted that he provided the PII to ISIL with the understanding that ISIL would use the PII to “hit them hard.”
Ferizi faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison when sentenced on September 16. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. As part of the plea, Ferizi also agreed to a stipulated order of removal to Kosovo, his country of citizenship, upon completion of his criminal sentence.
Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; John P. Carlin, Assistant Attorney General for National Security; and Paul M. Abbate, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office; and Michelle S. Klimt, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Jacksonville, Florida, Division, made the announcement after the plea was accepted by U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema.
This case is being prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Van Grack and Trial Attorney Gregory Gonzalez of the National Security Division’s (NSD) Counterterrorism Section, with assistance from Trial Attorney Vincent A. Citro of NSD’s Counterterrorism Section and Trial Attorney Matthew Walczewski of NSD’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section.
The Malaysian authorities and the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs also provided significant assistance.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:16-cr-42.