Man unlocked 2 million cell phones! Now he has to go to jail

In the U.S., a man was sentenced to 12 years in prison for cracking the Netlock of almost 2 million cell phones. This resulted in millions of euros in damages for the network operator AT&T.

Today, the netlock hardly plays a role in smartphones and cell phones. A few years ago, however, it was common, especially on devices from providers. It makes it impossible for cell phone owners to use their device on a network other than the one activated by the provider. Smartphones and cell phones with a Telekom netlock could consequently only be used on the Telekom network. A netlock is therefore a financial safeguard for the network operator. It is all the more annoying when the netlock is illegally cracked – as in the case of the U.S. provider AT&T.

Fraudster builds network to bypass AT&T netlock

Several years ago, Muhammad Fahd, a citizen of Pakistan and Grenada, specialized in this very business. Using the alias Frank Zhang, he contacted various AT&T employees via Facebook in 2012 and offered them a “substantial sum of money” if they would help him secretly unlock the netlock of AT&T phones. Fahd instructed AT&T employees to set up fake companies with corresponding bank accounts through which they received payment and also submitted fake invoices. In doing so, the wire transfers were posed as payments for legitimate services.

In 2013, however, AT&T introduced a new system that made it more difficult for Fahd and his accomplices to unlock the phones’ IMEI numbers. But the scammer soon had a solution for that, too. He hired a developer who programmed malware that was then installed on AT&T’s computer systems. This enabled Fahd to unlock the Netlock of even more phones – and even more effectively than before. The AT&T employees he paid then provided Fahd with more information about the systems, as well as credentials of other employees, which in turn allowed the developer to customize the malware more precisely.

Over 200 million US dollars in damage

In this way, Fahd and his helpers managed to free more than 1.9 million cell phones and smartphones from the AT&T netlock. According to an analysis by the provider, the network operator incurred damages of more than USD 200 million in the process. Charges were filed against Fahd in 2017, and he was arrested in Hong Kong in 2018 and transferred to the United States the following year. There, he pleaded guilty to his offenses in September 2020. The court issued the guilty verdict against Fahd on September 16, 2021. The sentence: 12 years in prison.


  • Department of Justice
  • The Verge