A member of the Syrian Electronic Army — a group of hackers who support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — has been extradited to the U.S. to face charges for his alleged part in a cyber campaign against the U.S. military and American businesses.
Peter Romar, 36, was apprehended by German authorities after criminal charges were unsealed in March. He was brought to the U.S. and had his first court appearance on May 10 in the Eastern District of Virginia.
Download: Affidavit in Support of Criminal Complaint and Arrest Warrants
Romar allegedly worked as part of SEA's Special Operation Division, hacking media companies and foreign governments that were critical of Assad's regime.
Those efforts included breaking into the Twitter account of a U.S. media outlet and posting a false news alert about a bomb detonating in the White House, injuring the president, and taking over a Marine Corps website to post a message urging Marines to refuse orders.
Romar also allegedly teamed up with another Syrian national and SEA member, Firas Dardar, who goes by the handle "The Shadow" online, on a series of cyber extortion schemes targeting American businesses. After gaining access to a company's systems through phishing attacks, the two would "threaten to damage computers and delete or sell the data unless they were paid a ransom," according to the FBI.
Those ransoms were paid directly to Romar and Dardar, with the former helping victims skirt U.S. sanctions meant to stop money flowing to certain Syrian bank accounts.
"While some of the activity sought to harm the economic and national security of the United States in the name of Syria, these detailed allegations reveal that the members also used extortion to try to line their own pockets at the expense of law-abiding people all over the world," John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security, said when the charges were unsealed.
Romar faces charges of unauthorized access to and damage of computers, extortion, receiving the proceeds of extortion, money laundering, wire fraud, violations of the Syrian Sanctions Regulations and unlawful interstate communications.
Dardar — who is still at large — was added to the FBI's Cyber Most Wanted list in March, along with another SEA hacker, Amad Umar Agha.
Aaron Boyd is an awarding-winning journalist currently serving as editor of Federal Times — a Washington, D.C. institution covering federal workforce and contracting for more than 50 years — and Fifth Domain — a news and information hub focused on cybersecurity and cyberwar from a civilian, military and international perspective.