The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and police in the Philippines have jointly busted a ring of four alleged hackers in Manila with connections to a terrorist group in Saudi Arabia, the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group of the Philippines police said last week.
FBI agents, who have been investigating the hacking of telecommunication companies in the U.S. and in the country since 1999, have uncovered a “paper trail” of various bank transactions allegedly linking the local hackers to the cell in Saudi Arabia, whose activities include financing terrorist activities, CIDG said in a statement.
The Philippines police and AT&T however disagree on whether AT&T's network was hacked, with the telecommunications service provider maintaining that it was the phone systems of some of its customers that were targeted.
The operation last week followed a complaint from AT&T, which suffered losses of up to $2 million as a result of the hack of its system, the Philippines police agency said.
AT&T however said on Monday that the company's network was neither targeted nor breached by the hackers, although the phone systems of a number of businesses, including some of its customers, were. “AT&T only assisted law enforcement in the investigation that led to the arrest of the group of hackers,” it said in an emailed statement.
The company said it wrote off some fraudulent charges that appeared on customers' bills. As AT&T was neither targeted nor breached, those were the only damages it suffered, the company said. “We are not commenting on an amount,” it added.
AT&T said last week that there was an attempt to obtain information on a number of AT&T customer accounts, but said it did not believe that the perpetrators of the attack obtained access to users’ online accounts.
The chief of the Anti-Transnational and Cyber Crime Division (ATCCD) unit of CIDG, police senior superintendent, Gilbert Sosa, did not return calls on Monday. The FBI did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The Philippines police said the group of one Muhammad Zamir, a Jemaah Islamiyah member, paid the suspects to hack the trunk-line of different telecommunication companies including AT&T. Revenue derived from the hacking was diverted to the account of the terrorists, who paid the Filipino hackers a commission through local banks, CIDG said.
Jemaah Islamiyah is an Islamic militant group that has been active in South East Asia and is said to be linked to some terrorist attacks in the region, including the Bali bombing in 2002.
Zamir was arrested in Italy in 2007 by FBI operatives but his group continues to be active, and was later tagged by the FBI to be the financial source of the terrorist attack in Mumbai, India on Nov. 26, 2008. After Zamir's arrest, an unnamed Saudi national took charge of the operation of the group, and also maintained links with the group of hackers in Manila, CIDG said.
In March, FBI requested the assistance of ATCCD after it found that the terrorist group had targeted AT&T in the U.S., and the same group of Filipino hackers was involved, CIDG said.
Updated at 8:46 a.m. PT with statements from AT&T.