Po­lice make 5 ar­rests in cy­ber­crime take­down

Mil­lions of dol­lars in losses

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

PARIS: US and Euro­pean of­fi­cials say they’ve knocked out a cy­ber­crime group ac­cused of in­flict­ing hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in losses world­wide, putting five key sus­pects in cus­tody.

The Euro­pean Union po­lice agency said Thurs­day the sweep was “un­prece­dented in its scale” and re­sulted in the seizure of 39 servers and hun­dreds of thou­sands of in­ter­net do­mains used by the Avalanche net­work, a ma­jor player in the mar­ket for cy­ber­crime ser­vices. Un­like some past seizures - which grabbed crooks’ in­fra­struc­ture while leav­ing the mas­ter­minds free to re­or­ga­nize their net­works - of­fi­cials say they’re con­fi­dent they’ve struck a fa­tal blow this time. “We have ar­rested the top, the head of the snake,” Fer­nando Ruiz, the head of op­er­a­tions at Europol’s Cy­ber­crime Cen­ter, told The Associated Press ahead of the an­nounce­ment. “We are sure that this will have a very huge im­pact.”

Ruiz called Avalanche “the per­fect ex­am­ple of crime as a ser­vice,” say­ing the mas­sive net­work was rented out by play­ers across the un­der­world to send spam, di­rect ma­li­cious soft­ware and to re­cruit money mules. As a cy­ber­crim­i­nal, Ruiz said, “you will con­tact this or­ga­ni­za­tion, and this or­ga­ni­za­tion will give you all you need.”

He said the ar­rests Wed­nes­day fol­lowed months of prepa­ra­tion and years of in­ves­ti­ga­tion by law en­force­ment agen­cies. In a sep­a­rate state­ment , the US Depart­ment of Jus­tice said 40 dif­fer­ent coun­tries were in­volved and ac­cused the net­work of host­ing some of the world’s most per­ni­cious mal­ware as well as sev­eral money laun­der­ing cam­paigns.

Unique

Ger­man In­te­rior Min­is­ter Thomas de Maiziere told re­porters at a press con­fer­ence in the town of Lueneb­urg that the size of the op­er­a­tion was “unique.” The net­work came into fo­cus in 2012 af­ter Ger­man of­fi­cials be­gan look­ing into the spread of fake po­lice ran­somware - an early form of ex­tor­tion soft­ware de­signed to trick users into think­ing their com­put­ers had been locked down by law en­force­ment - ac­cord­ing to Orla Cox, the di­rec­tor of se­cu­rity in­tel­li­gence at Sy­man­tec Corp., a Cal­i­for­nia-based se­cu­rity firm which par­tic­i­pated in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. That in­quiry even­tu­ally widened to in­clude dozens of other law en­force­ment agen­cies in­ves­ti­gat­ing a wide ar­ray of mis­deeds.

Ger­man au­thor­i­ties alone would even­tu­ally record 1,336 crimes in con­nec­tion with the group. Nei­ther US or Euro­pean of­fi­cials would is­sue pre­cise fig­ures but both said losses con­nected to the gang’s ac­tiv­i­ties reached into the hun­dreds of mil­lions. Ger­man of­fi­cials sug­gested other, po­ten­tially lower-rank­ing mem­bers of the gang ap­pear to have es­caped the global drag­net. Pros­e­cu­tors there said they were able to iden­tify 16 peo­ple at the group’s “lead­er­ship level” and a court in the Ger­man town of Ver­den had is­sued ar­rest war­rants for seven of them. It’s not clear how many, if any, of the seven peo­ple be­ing sought by Ger­man au­thor­i­ties over­lap with the five in­di­vid­u­als ar­rested Wed­nes­day.

Ruiz, of Europol, de­clined to give any de­tails of those ar­rested or even say where they had been detained, say­ing the coun­tries where the ar­rests took place had asked not to be iden­ti­fied. Cox, with Sy­man­tec, con­firmed that some sus­pects were still at large but said law en­force­ment was still pretty sure they’d beaten Avalanche, given the sheer scale of what they’d seized. “We can never say it’s com­pletely done but con­fi­dence lev­els are high this time around,” Cox said.

—AP

BER­LIN: Ger­man In­te­rior Min­is­ter Thomas de Maiziere speaks about the ar­rest of heads of a group called Avalanche on Thurs­day.

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