Hacker gets 20 years in prison for sharing US military data with ISIS

Kosovo Hacker Gets 20 Years in Jail for Helping Islamic State by US Federal Court

A 20-year-old, Kosovo native computer hacker Ardit Ferizi has received 20 years in prison for the crime of helping out ISIS, a terrorist organization. Ferizi is guilty of handing over critical and sensitive information about over a thousand US government and military officials to the so-called Islamic State.

The accused was arrested from Malaysia in 2015 and happens to be the first person who was tried and sentenced in the US over computer hacking and terrorism charges.

Ardit Ferizi (right)
Ardit Ferizi (right)

Prosecutors sought a sentence of 25 years for Ferizi. On the other hand, the defense lawyers wanted 6 years sentence for Ferizi as they argued that their client didn’t mean any real harm and he also isn’t an ardent supporter of the militant organization. In fact, they believed him to be just a “misguided teenager,” having no idea about the consequences of his actions.

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Public defense lawyer Elizabeth Mullin stated that Ferizi “has never embraced ISIL’s ideology.”

During the trial, Ferizi admitted to hacking a private firm and extracting information like names, email IDs, passwords and contact numbers of 1,351 people. It must be noted that the hacked IDs contained .gov and .mil domain names. These names were later published by the Islamic State as the organization also threatened to attack the individuals.

On his sentence hearing, Ferizi could not explain with credibility the reason behind such an act from his side. When the US District judge Leonie Brinkema asked for an explanation directly, he replied that everything happened rather quickly.

“I feel so bad for what I did. I am very sorry for what I did, making people feel scared,” said Ferizi.

According to Assistant US Attorney Brandon Van Grack, the act of Ferizi has “indefinitely put the lives of 1,300 military members and government workers at risk.”

Screenshot from the data leaked by ISIS in August 2015

Van Grack also refuted defense’s claim that the crime committed by Ferizi was a whim because the defendant has been operating a website that propagated Islamic State’s propaganda prior to handing over information to the “Hacking Division” of the terrorist organization. Furthermore, in his online conversations, Ferizi also was found to be defending the Islamic State. Therefore, the prosecution believed that when he provided 1,300 identities to the Islamic State he was actually helping the terrorists in creating a hit list.

According to Van Grack:

“This was a hit list. The point was to find these individuals and hit them, to ‘strike at their necks.”

In response, Mullin stated that nobody from the list has been harmed yet and the information provided to the Islamic State by Ferizi was already publicly available.

Ferizi has a history of hacking conducts such as during his teenage, he hacked into Kosovar government databases and got into a lot of trouble but didn’t go to jail at that time. Then he landed in Malaysia to study cyber-security and continued polishing his hacking skills. He met Islamic State recruiter online while he was trying to track and expose pedophiles on the internet. For his hacking sprees, Ferizi used the moniker “Th3Dir3ctorY.” He was arrested by Malaysian police and extradited to the US where he pleaded guilty in June.

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Ferizi was sentenced in a federal court in Virginia. As per the assistant attorney general for national security John Carlin, “This case represents the first time we have seen the very real and dangerous national security cyber threat that results from the combination of terrorism and hacking.”

“This was a wake-up call not only to those of us in law enforcement but also to those in private industry,” Carlin’s statement read.

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