A District Court in the US has handed a 12-year jail time to a Pakistani for illegally unlocking the mobile phones of AT&T, the world’s largest telecommunications company based in Texas, which caused it to lose over $200 million.

According to details, Mohammad Fahad, a 35-year old man from Karachi, led a seven-year scheme to unlock as many as 1.9 million AT&T’s mobile phones illicitly, depriving the company of $201.5 million.

In the judgment, District Judge Robert Lasnik at the District Court for the Western District of Washington observed that “Fahad committed a terrible cybercrime over an extended period despite being aware that law enforcement authorities were monitoring him.”

Judge Lasnik has also ordered Fahad to return $200.6 million to AT&T. The AT&T employees who worked for him have been directed to restitute the difference between this amount and the total amount lost by AT&T.

How did it start?

Aiming to unlock mobile phones of a large number of ineligible customers for profit, Fahad, in 2012, contacted an AT&T employee through Facebook, using the alias “Frank Zhang.”

He offered the AT&T employee huge sums of money if the worker would help him unlock the mobile phones of AT&T. Together, they began recruiting other AT&T employees at a call center in Washington.

Fahad bribed them to disclose their AT&T credentials to enable him to unlock mobile phones. Later, he bribed them once again to install customized malware and hacking tools to enable him to unlock phones remotely from Pakistan.

It is worth mentioning here that US companies offer mobile phones at subsidized rates and easy installment plans if the customers agree to buy their cellular services as well.

However, unlocking a mobile phone removes it from the company’s network, allowing the phone owner to subscribe to cheaper services without paying the remaining installments and any other charges.

How did it work?

Fahad asked the AT&T employees to set up fake businesses and connect their bank accounts with them to receive payments from the illegal unlocking of the phones.

He directed them to make fake invoices against every deposit made into their accounts connected with their fake businesses to make it look that the payments were made for genuine services.

A brief roadblock

AT&T got suspicious in 2013 and implemented a new unlocking system to make it more difficult for its employees working for Fahad to illegally unlock mobile phones for him.

As a countermeasure, Fahad hired an experienced software developer to design malware that would be installed on AT&T’s computers without authorization to unlock a large number of phones more efficiently.

Once again, Fahad bribed the already recruited AT&T employees to disclose confidential information regarding the company’s computer system and unlocking processes.

He also forced them to install malware on AT&T’s computers that captured all the information about AT&T’s computer system and the network access credentials of other AT&T employees.

Fahad gave all the information obtained from AT&T employees to the software developer, enabling the latter to develop a customized malware that would let the former gain access to AT&T’s computers from anywhere in the world.

The arrest

The District Court for the Western District of Washington had charged Fahad in 2017 for leading a multi-million fraud against AT&T.

Fahad was detained in Hong Kong in 2018. He was extradited and presented in the Seattle-based District Court in August 2019. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in September 2020.

A modern-day cybercriminal

In her final argument, the Acting US Attorney for the Western District of Washington, Tessa Gorman, termed Fahad as a modern-day cybercriminal who combined his technological expertise with old-school techniques such as bribery, intimidation, and exploitation to run a criminal organization causing $200 million in losses.

Sadly, the damage was not just financial as he persuaded and pressured young people into engaging in criminal conduct, spreading the damage of his greedy scheme to others, she lamented.