Alleged ISIS-linked hacker becomes the first person to appear in U.S. Court
A hacker from Kosovo accused of hacking into a U.S. company’s server and passing the personal data of more than a thousand US officials to ISIS militants appeared in the U.S. federal court in Eastern District of Virginia on Wednesday.
It was the first time Ardit Ferizi, 20, had publicly appeared in the United States since being extradited from Malaysia, where he was detained in October on a US provisional arrest warrant. He is facing several charges, including providing material support to a terrorist organization and aggravated identity theft.
Ferizi is accused of hacking an American company and stealing the sensitive data, then passed personal details of over 1,300 U.S. military and government employees to an ISIS propagandist, who posted the information online and urged followers to attack them.
The posting warned that soldiers of ISIS would “strike at your necks in your own lands!”
At the request of the U.S., Ferizi was arrested by Malaysian authorities in Kuala Lumpur last September. The Justice Department sought his extradition, and he was brought to the US this week to face the hacking and terrorism charges.
Ferizi is believed to be the leader of a hacking group called Kosova Hacker’s Security, the US Justice Department said after the arrest last year.
The same statement alleged that Ferizi, also known by his hacking nickname Th3Dir3ctorY, unlawfully provided obtained information to a British citizen and ISIS member Junaid Hussain, alias Abu Hussain al-Britani, between June and August 2015.
On August 11, 2015 Hussain tweeted: “NEW: U.S. Military AND Government HACKED by the Islamic State Hacking Division!” with a hyperlink to a 30-page document.
The document also contained the names, email addresses, passwords and phone numbers of 1,351 U.S. military and other government personnel.
He was later killed in a drone strike in Syria on August 24.
When Ferizi was arrested, assistant attorney general John Carlin said in a statement, “This case is a first of its kind.” According to the DOJ, Ferizi waived extradition. If convicted, he could face up to 35 years in prison. An Albanian interpreter has been appointed in advance of his next court appearance on Friday.
Prosecutors say Ferizi is the source of one of the most high-profile ISIS hacking incidents of all time.
“This arrest demonstrates our resolve to confront and disrupt ISIL’s efforts to target Americans, in whatever form and wherever they occur,” Assistant Attorney General John Carlin said in an October press release.
Ferizi, originally from the town of Gjakova in Kosovo, was studying computer sciences in Malaysia.
Ferizi’s arrest and Hussain’s death are part of a potential increased Pentagon focus on ISIS’s tech-savvy members. In December, a U.S. drone strike also took out a lesser-known ISIS hacker, Siful Haque Sujan.
Over the last year, ISIS’s digital warriors have gained attention by defacing media outlets’ websites, taking over high-profile Twitter accounts and even stealing credit card data.
The unexpected digital achievements have provided the group with valuable propaganda that the U.S. has struggled to counter.