Muhammad Fahd, a 35-year-old Pakistani national, has been sentenced to 12 years of prison in the United States for his role in a scheme that involved illegally unlocking AT&T phones and hacking into the telecoms giant’s systems.
The scheme started in 2012, when Fahd and others recruited AT&T call center employees for help in unlocking phones sold by AT&T to customers under installment plans. These types of devices can only be used on AT&T’s network, but once a phone has been unlocked it can be used on the network on any provider and the device’s owner can avoid paying for AT&T services or making payments for the phone.
Fahd was initially helped directly by AT&T call center employees to unlock phones, but when in 2013 AT&T implemented a new system that made it more difficult for employees to unlock devices, the man hired someone to develop a piece of malware that, once deployed on AT&T’s internal systems, would allow him to remotely unlock phones from Pakistan in larger numbers.
“At Fahd’s request, the employees provided confidential information to Fahd about AT&T’s computer system and unlocking procedures to assist in this process,” the U.S. Justice Department said on Thursday. “Fahd also had the employees install malware on AT&T’s computers that captured information about AT&T’s computer system and the network access credentials of other AT&T employees. Fahd provided the information to his malware developer, so the developer could tailor the malware to work on AT&T’s computers.”
According to authorities, AT&T determined that more than 1.9 million phones were unlocked as part of the scheme, causing losses of over $200 million due to customers stopping to make payments for their phones.
Fahd was indicted in the United States in 2017 and was arrested the next year in Hong Kong. He was extradited in 2019 and he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in 2020.
In addition to the 12-year prison sentence, Fahd was ordered to pay $200 million in restitution.
The AT&T employees who helped the Pakistani national have also been prosecuted.