Twin brothers pleaded guilty to hacking computers, including breaking into State Department networks while working as government contractors.
Muneeb and Sohaib Akhter, 23, admitted during a Friday hearing they infiltrated the department’s networks in order to steal passport and visa information, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Then, in February this year, one of the brothers re-entered the network to access sensitive data on co-workers, a former employer and a federal investigator looking into his criminal activity.
The plea comes amid growing fears that government contractors pose an increasing threat to federal networks.
Outside hackers frequently target contractors to try and obtain information that can help them compromise government networks. The Office of Personnel Management has said this is how attackers got into the agency’s database, likely accessing information on well over 18 million people.
Additionally, government agencies have grown more wary of giving government contractors access to their networks following the damaging leaks from Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor.
The brothers took advantage of positions with federal contractors to access government data, according to the defendants’ statement of facts submitted with their plea.
Starting around November 2013, Muneeb hacked the network of a data aggregation company for which he was doing contract work, accessing the company’s database of federal contract information.
The Akhters then used that data to make their own technology company’s bids for government contracts more attractive.
Sohaib Akhter also tried to abuse his position as a contractor for the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.
In addition to illegally accessing passport data, Sohaib Akhter conspired with his brother and others to install an electronic device in the walls of the State Department with the goal of retaining access to the agency’s networks after leaving his role, according to prosecutors.
The brothers were attempting to create and sell fake passports and visas on the black market, officials said.
Muneeb Akhter faces up to 50 years in prison, while Sohaib Akhter could receive up to 30 years. Both face sentencing in September.