Akhter twins plead guilty to State Dept. hack, other crimes

The twins, Muneeb and Sohaib Akhter, face a maximum 50- and 30-year prison sentence, respectively.
The twins, Muneeb and Sohaib Akhter, face a maximum 50- and 30-year prison sentence, respectively.

Twin brothers, accused in April of hacking State Department systems and the website of a cosmetics company, have pleaded guilty to computer hacking charges, among other crimes.

On Friday, 23-year-old Muneeb and Sohaib Akhter of Springfield, Virginia, admitted to taking part in various schemes, pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to access a protected computer without authorization, and conspiracy to access a government computer without authorization. A Department of Justice release noted that Muneeb Akhter separately pleaded guilty to additional charges – accessing a protected computer without authorization, obstructing justice and making a false statement.

Muneeb stole thousands of customers' credit card details, along with other personal information of consumers, by hacking into a cosmetic company's website in March 2014. Then, the brothers and co-conspirators used to the stolen data to purchase "goods and services, including flights, hotel reservations, and attendance at professional conferences,” The DOJ release said. “Muneeb Akhter also provided stolen information to an individual he met on the ‘dark net,' who sold the information to other dark-net users and gave Akhter a share of the profits.”

According to officials, the attacks against State Department computer systems began in February when Sohaib  used his contract position with the agency to obtain passport and visa information, along with other sensitive data on the agency's systems.

“Sohaib Akhter later devised a scheme to ensure that he could maintain perpetual access to desired State Department systems. Sohaib Akhter, with the help of Muneeb Akhter and co-conspirators, attempted to secretly install an electronic collection device inside a State Department building. Once installed, the device could have enabled Sohaib Akhter and co-conspirators to remotely access and collect data from State Department computer systems.  Sohaib Akhter was forced to abandon the plan during its execution when he broke the device while attempting to install it behind a wall at a State Department facility in Washington, D.C.,” the DOJ release said.

Muneeb faces a maximum sentence of 50 years in prison, and Sohaib a maximum prison sentence of 30 years. Their sentencing hearing is scheduled for September 25, 2015.

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