Muneeb and Sohaib Akhter are twin 23-year-old computer whizzes who live in Springfield, Virginia.
Last week they were indicted by the Department of Justice for allegedly hacking into various computer systems, stealing credit card funds, and hatching a plan to access US government computers and sell passport and visa data.
In total, the Akhter twins racked up 12 criminal charges.
Both brothers are renowned computer experts. They graduated from George Mason university at the age of 19, which earned them a profile in the Washington Post. Since then they have reportedly been trying to make a name for themselves in both the hacking and computer security world. That’s likely what landed them in such hot water.
According to a press release from the Eastern Virginia Department of Justice, the district attorney plans to prove that the brothers hacked into a cosmetic company’s network and stole private credit card data.
They used these credentials to allegedly “purchase goods and services, including flights, hotel reservations and attendance at professional conferences.”
Targeting Government computers
And their alleged cybercrime ring goes even deeper. The indictment, which was filed late last week, weaves a long and bizarre tale about how the brothers allegedly planned to break into computers at the State Department to access private information.
Sohaib was assigned to a contract position inside the State Department, the indictment reads. This reportedly gave him access to a government web program called ‘Lockbox,’ which “performs payment processing, scanning of applications, and initial data entry for U.S. passport applications.”
Given this access, the brothers allegedly hatched detailed plan. They, along with other alleged co-conspirators, allegedly “engaged in a series of computer intrusions and attempted computer intrusions against the State department to obtain sensitive passport and visa information and other related and valuable information about State department computer systems,” according to the indictment.
Additionally, Sohaib supposedly had plans to set up a physical device somewhere inside the State Department’s building. This device, which is a small computer called ‘gumstix,’ would provide remote access to State Department computers.
The two allegedly brought on other co-conspirators to help facilitate these operations, two of which are quoted in the indictment but not named or charged.
The indictment further alleges that the brother considered selling the private data they obtained from State Department computers — including the passport information of a Homeland Security Special Agent — on dark web marketplaces.
The Akhters were originally suspected of foul play by the authorities last year when Muneeb boasted about being able to receive unlimited funds from gift cards through his hacking finesse. This story was later said to be fabricated by Muneeb. The new indictment, however, claims that Muneeb’s gift card hacking tale was a meant as a rouse to cover up his deeper and more nefarious cyber crimes.
Even after being questioned by authorities last July, both brothers were able to obtain high-level cyber-related position. Muneeb accepted a job last October with the defence contractor Booz-Allen Hamilton.
The investigation has reportedly been ongoing for months, beginning with the initial claims that Muneeb had hacked gift cards.
If convicted, Sohaib could face as many as 39 years in prison, for Muneeb 59.