The US Justice Department has gone into detail about a cybercrime investigation that resulted in the arrest of Maltese national Daniel Meli, who is now facing extradition to the United States.
In a statement, they said the 27-year-old Żabbar resident was indicted by a federal grand jury in Georgia on 12th December for four offences, including causing unauthorised damage to protected computers, illegally selling and advertising an electronic interception device, and participating in a conspiracy to commit several computer intrusion offenses.
They said that charging documents show Meli had been offering malware products and services for sale to cybercriminals through computer-hacking forums since at least 2012.
“Specifically, Meli allegedly assisted cybercriminals seeking to use RATs (remote access trojans) for malicious purposes and offered teaching tools for sale, including an eBook,” the statement read.
“Meli also allegedly sold both the Warzone RAT and, before that, malware known as the Pegasus RAT, which he sold through an online criminal organization called Skynet-Corporation. He also provided online customer support to purchasers of both RATs.”
Pegasus, a spyware that can remotely seize control of a phone’s microphone and camera and access documents, made headlines in 2021 when Forbidden Stories revealed that governments were using it to spy on thousands of activists, journalists and other people “of interest”.
“Daniel Meli will no longer escape accountability for his actions selling malware,” said U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan for the Northern District of Georgia.
“This alleged cybercriminal facilitated the takeover and infection of computers worldwide. Our office was proud to partner with our federal and international counterparts to find Meli and bring him to justice. We will continue to diligently investigate and prosecute cybercrime in the Northern District of Georgia, and in all parts of the globe where our district is impacted.”
“This action highlights the FBI’s commitment to disrupting cybercriminal actors and taking down their infrastructure,” said Assistant Director Brian Vorndran of the FBI’s Cyber Division. “The FBI is proud of the international coordination involved in this law enforcement effort, and we will continue to build global partnerships to go after cybercriminals who seek to harm the American people.”
Separately, Nigerian national Prince Onyeoziri Odinakachi has also been arrested and indicted by a federal grand jury in the District of Massachusetts for conspiracy to commit multiple computer intrusion offenses.
According to charging documents, Odinakachi provided online customer support to individuals who purchased and used the Warzone RAT malware between June 2019 and no earlier than March 2023.
The charges of conspiracy, obtaining authorised access to protected computers to obtain information, illegally selling an interception device, and illegally advertising an interception device each provide for a sentence of up to five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater.
The charge of causing unauthorized damage to protected computers provides for a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater.