Jordanian, 2 Pinoys in phone hacking ring face extradition

By David Dizon, abs-cbnNEWS.com

Posted at Jun 15 2009 05:41 PM | Updated as of Jun 16 2009 09:45 PM

Manila - Two Filipinos and a Jordanian national in the Philippines are facing possible extradition to the United States for hacking into the telephone systems of large US corporations and selling the information to Pakistani nationals living in Italy, the United States Department of Justice said over the weekend.

A report on the US DOJ website identified the suspects as Paul Michael Kwan, 27; Nancy Gomez, 24; and Mahmoud Nusier, 40. Kwan and Gomez are Filipino while Nusier is Jordanian.

US authorities said the three are all residents in the Philippines who were arrested in March 2007.

The three are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, two counts of unauthorized access to computer systems and possessions of unauthorized access devices including passcodes to US telephone systems. They each face a 25-year maximum prison sentence and a hefty fine.

The report said Italian law enforcers raided 10 locations in four regions of Italy and arrested five financiers of the phone hacking syndicate. The DOJ said the financiers used the information from the compromised telephone systems to transmit more than 12 million minutes of telephone calls valued at more than $55 million over the hacked networks of victim in the United States alone.

"This was an extensive and well-organized criminal network that worked across continents," acting U.S. Attorney Ralph J. Marra Jr. said in a statement.

"The hackers we’ve charged enabled their conspirators in Italy and elsewhere to steal large amounts of telecommunications capacity, which could then be used to further or finance just about any sort of nefarious activity here or overseas."

The indictment said two of the Pakistani financiers -- Mohammad Zamir and Shabina Kanwal  -- recruited Nusier, Kwan and Gomez to hack into the telephone networks of unsuspecting large corporations and entities so that telephone calls could be transmitted over the hacked networks.

Alex Ramos, a former computer forensics specialist of the Philippine National Police, earlier said the phone hacking syndicate committed "phreaking", which exploited security loopholes to obtain free access to telephone calls. The process involves using a "war dialer" to call different phone numbers and then guessing the pincodes to those numbers in order to freely access the system to make long distance calls.

Foreign law enforcers contacted the Philippine government in 2001 about an upsurge in online anomalies hitting foreign telecoms. "These telecoms had been monitoring the increase in unauthorized calls and they made a projection that if this thing continued to happen at that rate, there would be denial of service. No one in the Philippines would be able to call anyone in the US," Ramos told abs-cbnNEWS.com.

Police made raids against suspected syndicate members since 2001 but it was in March 2007 that the police was able to dismantle the core group. Twenty-four Jordanian nationals of Palestinian descent and seven Filipinos were arrested in separate raids in Caloocan, Valenzuela, Parañaque, and Las Piñas.

Ramos said telecom companies lost an estimated $350 million in stolen revenue as a result of the phreaking syndicate.

Police said public branch exchange (PBX) telephone systems of over 2,500 corporations in the United States, Canada, Australia and Europe were infiltrated by the phone hackers. They said dozens of notebooks found during the raid revealed telephone numbers and access codes of the victim PBX systems.

"We will continue to work with law enforcement officials overseas in Italy, the Philippines and elsewhere to prosecute those individuals currently charged and to identify others involved in this international conspiracy," said Weysan Dun, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Newark Division.

The US DOJ said the indictment has been assigned to US District Judge Mary L. Cooper in Trenton, New Jersey. It said no hearings are currently scheduled before the court, as defendants Nusier, Kwan and Gomez are residing in the Philippines and would only make an appearance in the United States subject to their self-reporting or extradition.

The individuals arrested in Italy will be prosecuted in Italy.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant US Attorney Erez Liebermann of the US Attorney’s Office Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property Section, part of the Commercial Crimes Unit in Newark.