US sanctions three ‘hackers for hire’ who work for a UAE company

Three defendants agree to pay $ 1.68 million in fines following a criminal investigation by the United States Department of Justice.

Three “paid hackers” working for a company in the United Arab Emirates “for the benefit” of the Abu Dhabi government agreed to pay $ 1.68 million in fines as part of a legal settlement in the United States, USA. . The Justice Department said.

The suspects, two US citizens and one former US citizen, provided “no click” hacking services to the UAE company “that could compromise a device without any action on the part of the target,” the Justice Department said. in a statement Tuesday.

He identified the individuals as Marc Baier, 49, Ryan Adams, 34, and Daniel Gericke, the 40-year-old former US citizen. American law allows Americans to renounce their citizenship.

All three previously worked for the US intelligence community or the US military, according to the Justice Department.

The agreement, known as a “deferred prosecution agreement,” will cause defendants to evade criminal charges if they abide by its terms.

“Hackers for hire and those who support such activities in violation of United States law should expect to be prosecuted for their criminal conduct,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark Lesko said in the statement.

“Left unregulated, the proliferation of offensive cyber capabilities undermines privacy and security around the world.”

The UAE embassy in Washington, DC, did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment Tuesday night.

The Justice Department said it repeatedly warned the trio that their work falls within defense services that require a special license from the United States government. For its part, the FBI promised to crack down on Americans who provide pirating services illegally.

“The FBI will thoroughly investigate individuals and businesses that profit from illegal criminal cyber activity,” Bryan Vorndran, deputy director of the FBI’s cyber division, said in the statement.

“This is a clear message to anyone, including former US government employees, who had considered using cyberspace to leverage export-controlled information for the benefit of a foreign government or foreign business enterprise: There is a risk and there will be consequences. “

The Reuters news agency reported that Baier, Adams and Gericke were working as part of a covert unit called Project Raven that helped the UAE spy on its enemies around the world.

Baier, a former official with the United States National Security Agency (NSA), was the manager of Project Raven, according to a 2019 Reuters research which first revealed the existence of the piracy unit.

Baier will pay most of the fine – $ 750,000, according to the Justice Department – while Adams and Gericke will pay $ 600,000 and $ 335,000, respectively. All three have also agreed to waive US or foreign security clearances and cooperate fully with the FBI.

The UAE has faced criticism from human rights groups for its use of hacking against its alleged opponents, including journalists and human rights activists.

A joint investigation by various media outlets revealed earlier this year that many phone numbers potentially attacked by Pegasus, a spyware program created by the private Israeli company NSO Group, were linked to the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE denied the allegations about the use of Pegasus at the time, saying they have no “evidentiary basis.”

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