A network of hackers who allegedly stole more than $100 million in cryptocurrency by accessing celebrities’ phones has been broken up, Europol has announced.
The European police agency said it had assisted in the arrest of 10 hackers, who are thought to have stolen from thousands of people over the course of 2020, including influencers, sports stars and musicians, and also targeted their victims’ families.
The hacks were allegedly carried out using ‘SIM-swapping’ attacks, which allow criminals to gain access to a victim’s phone by tricking a phone company into deactivating a working SIM card and transferring control to a SIM card owned by the hacker. Once they’ve broken into the phone, hackers can then reset passwords on apps to gain access to the various accounts registered to their victim’s phone.
In a statement announcing the arrests, via Reuters, Europol said the spate of SIM-swapping attacks ‘enabled [hackers] to steal money, cryptocurrencies and personal information, including contacts synced with online accounts’.
What’s more, the hackers also allegedly infiltrated some victims’ social media accounts through their phones, posting content on their pages and ‘masquerading’ as different celebrities to send messages to other people.
The UK’s National Crime Agency announced they had arrested eight people in connection with the SIM-swapping attacks, with Europol confirming to UNILAD that two other individuals were also arrested earlier in the year in Malta and Belgium in connection with the same investigation. The alleged hackers are said to be aged between 18 and 26, and were able to steal $100 million in bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies by specifically targeting high net-worth individuals.
Paul Creffield, head of the NCA’s cybercrimes division, said in a statement, ‘This network targeted a large number of victims in the US and regularly attacked those they believed would be lucrative targets, such as famous sports stars and musicians.’ He added, ‘As well as causing a lot of distress and disruption, we know they stole large sums from their victims, from either their bank accounts or bitcoin wallets’. The US Secret Service and the FBI were also involved in the investigation, The Guardian reports.
SIM-swapping attacks have been on the rise in recent years as hackers try to take advantage of the huge amounts of personal data stored on our smartphones, including banking information, social media accounts, photos and contact lists. Europol warned the public to avoid using online services that use text messages to log in to accounts, saying that these services left users exposed to similar SIM-swapping hacks.
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