Law enforcement agencies across the world joined forces to take down two people operating an email hacking site based in the U.S. as well as others linked to similar hacking sites in other nations.
In an operation that spanned Romania, India, China and the U.S., authorities were able to track down a total of 11 people. Five were charged in a series of cases in Los Angeles, and are expected to plead guilty in the coming weeks, according to the FBI.
In the first case, Mark Anthony Townsend, 45, of Cedarville, Arkansas and Joshua Alan Tabor, 29, of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, were accused of operating an e-mail hacking website called needapassword.com and were each charged with a felony violation that carries a potential prison sentence of five years. According to court documents, customers provided the two with the names of email accounts and hired Townsend and Tabor to obtain the passwords. All totaled, nearly 6,000 e-mail accounts are believed to have been affected by the scheme.
Three other defendants face misdemeanor charges for hiring computer hackers. These customers, who face up to one year in federal prison, are:
- John Ross Jesensky, 30, of Northridge, California, who paid $21,675 to a Chinese website to get e-mail account passwords and who is expected to be in federal court in Los Angeles this afternoon;
- Laith Nona, 31, of Troy, Michigan, who paid approximately $1,081 to get e-mail account passwords; and
- Arthur Drake, 55, of Bronx, New York, who paid approximately $1,011 to get e-mail account passwords.
These charges are the product of an international investigation coordinated by the FBI, with assistance from the United States Air Force/Office of Special Investigations and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. During the investigation, the FBI coordinated with the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIIOCT) and Directorate for Combating Organized Crime (DCCO) of Romania, as well as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of the Republic of India and the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) in the People’s Republic of China.
In Romania, the DCCO, under the authority of DIICOT, searched three residences associated with individuals operating the websites zhackgroup.com, spyhackgroup.com, rajahackers.com, clickhack.com, ghostgroup.org, and e-mail-hackers.com. Four people were charged and detained in connection with the operation of those websites, which are believed to have been involved in the hacking of roughly 1,600 e-mail accounts in Romania between February 2011 and October 2012.
The Central Bureau of Investigation in India meanwhile arrested a suspect named Amit Tiwari for operating the websites www.hirehacker.net and www.anonymiti.com. Operators of the two sites are reputed to be responsible for obtaining unauthorized access of 935 email accounts between February 2011 and February 2013. One hundred seventy-one of these accounts belonged to victims in India.
The MPS in China joined in the action by arresting Ying Liu (劉颖), also known as ‘Brent Liu’, for operating the website hiretohack.net. Liu is believed to be responsible for obtaining unauthorized access to approximately 300 e-mail accounts between January 2012 and March 2013.