Eleven people were charged in the U.S., India, China and Romania for their suspected involvement with websites offering email hacking services.
Mark Anthony Townsend, 45, of Cedarville, Arkansas, and Joshua Alan Tabor, 29, of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, were charged with a felony offense for hacking into nearly 6,000 email accounts, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California announced Friday. Authorities believe Townsend and Tabor operated a website called needapassword.com through which they offered to obtain, for a fee, the passwords to email accounts supplied by other users. The payments were received via PayPal.
Three other U.S. residents were charged with misdemeanor offenses for hiring email hackers from foreign countries. John Ross Jesensky, 30, of Northridge, California, is believed to have paid US$21,675 to a Chinese website to get e-mail account passwords. Laith Nona, 31, of Troy, Michigan, and Arthur Drake, 55, of Bronx, New York, are suspected to have paid $1,081 and $1,011 respectively for similar services.
The five defendants are expected to plead guilty in the coming weeks, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
The cases are related to an international law enforcement operation in four countries that also resulted in the arrest of six people in India, China and Romania.
Prosecutors from the Romanian Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism, known as DIICOT, charged and detained four people who are believed to have offered email hacking services through several websites: zhackgroup.com, spyhackgroup.com, rajahackers.com, clickhack.com, ghostgroup.org, and e-mail-hackers.com.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the scheme run by the Romanian suspects affected around 1,600 email accounts between Feb. 2011 and Oct. 2012. However, a news release Friday from DIICOT that only mentioned house searches said the suspects hacked into over 2,000 email accounts for fees between $50 and $200.
In India, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) arrested a man named Amit Tiwari for running the websites www.hirehacker.net and www.anonymiti.com, the U.S. Attorney's Office said. Searches have also been executed at his and associates' residences.
India's Central Bureau of Investigation didn't name the arrested suspect in its own news release Friday but said that he is from Pune. The suspect and his associates are believed to have gained unauthorized access to over 900 email accounts between February 2011 and February 2013 for fees between $250 to $500, the CBI said.
In China, the Ministry of Public Safety arrested Ying Liu, also known as Brent Liu, under the suspicion that he operated a website called hiretohack.net. Liu is believed to have gained access to over 300 email accounts without authorization between January 2012 and March 2013, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.
"For India's CBI, China's MPS, Romania's DCCO [a division of DIICOT], and the FBI to cooperate together on a single case is without precedence," Gary Warner, the Director of Research in Computer Forensics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said Saturday in a blog post. "A great sign towards a bad future for cyber criminals."
The arrests come after earlier last week DIICOT arrested a person suspected to be the celebrity hacker Guccifer who hacked into the email addresses of many U.S. and foreign public figures including former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and members of the former U.S. President's George W. Bush family.