Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that AVIRAM AZARI was sentenced today to 80 months in prison for computer intrusion, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft in connection with his involvement in a massive computer-hacking campaign targeting companies and individuals in the U.S. and around the world. AZARI was arrested on these charges in September 2019 while traveling to the U. S. from abroad and has been detained since his arrest. U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl imposed today’s sentence.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “From his home in Israel, Aviram Azari played a major role in orchestrating and facilitating an international hacking-for-hire spearphishing campaign. The conspiracy targeted individuals and companies in the U.S. and abroad, resulting in the theft of data and netting Azari over $4.8 million in criminal proceeds. Today’s sentencing sends an unmistakable message about my Office’s firm commitment to prosecuting hackers, domestic and foreign alike.”
According to the allegations contained in the Indictment to which AZARI pled guilty, public court filings, and statements made during court proceedings:
From approximately November 2014 to September 2019, AZARI engaged in an extensive spearphishing campaign that targeted individuals and companies in the U. S. and around the globe. AZARI owned and operated an Israeli intelligence firm. Clients hired AZARI to manage “Projects” that were described as intelligence gathering efforts but were, in fact, hacking campaigns specifically targeting certain groups of victims, including climate change activists and individuals and financial firms that had been a critical part of the German payment processing company Wirecard A.G. AZARI paid different hacking groups, including a particular group located in India, to send spearphishing emails to victims of the various Projects. The hacking groups updated AZARI on their progress, including sending him lists that tracked their hacking efforts against specific victims. The hackers also sent AZARI reports, advising when they were successful in accessing victims’ accounts and stealing information.
One of AZARI’s hacking Projects was focused on targeting individuals and organizations involved with climate change advocacy. Some of the hacked documents that were stolen from various of the victims’ online accounts were leaked to the press, resulting in articles relating to the New York and Massachusetts Attorneys Generals’ investigations into Exxon Mobil Corporation’s knowledge about climate change and potential misstatements made by Exxon regarding what it knew about the risks of climate change.
Clients of AZARI’s Israeli private intelligence company paid AZARI more than approximately $4.8 million over a nearly five-year period for managing the intelligence gathering and spearphishing campaign. AZARI executed his crimes deliberately and over an extended period primarily for his own self-enrichment. Some of AZARI’s thousands of victims have described the devastating personal, financial, and reputational impact AZARI’s crimes had on them. Victims have described the persistent and relentless targeting of them and their associates, as well as the theft of their identities and personal data, as “psychological assault” that has caused them “anxiety, paranoia, depression, sleeplessness, and fear,” and the victims have expressed continued concerns for their personal safety.
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AZARI, 52, of Kiryat Yam, Israel, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit computer hacking, one count of wire fraud, and one count of aggravated identity theft. In addition to his prison term, AZARI was sentenced to three years of supervised release and was ordered to pay forfeiture of $4,844,968.
Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Juliana N. Murray and Olga Zverovich are in charge of the prosecution.