Just days after arresting the suspected mastermind of the Carbanak gang responsible for cyber heists totalling €1bn, Europol has arrested 20 cyber criminals for fraud totalling €1m.
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The arrests come after a two-year cyber crime investigation by the Romanian National Police and the Italian National Police, with the support of Europol, its Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce (J-CAT) and Eurojust.
The arrests were made in a series of coordinated raids in Romania, where police detained nine suspects, and Italy where police made 11 arrests.
Those arrested are believe to be responsible for defrauding hundreds of customers at two major banking institutions using spear phishing emails impersonating tax authorities to harvest the online banking credentials of their victims.
While the most common phishing scams blast out millions of generic e-mails, spear phishing emails are personally addressed to targeted stakeholders with content to make it appear from a reputable source, such as a bank. Recipients are encouraged to click on a link, which leads to a fake version of a legitimate website where their account or contact details can be stolen.
The infamous Carbanak gang also used spear phishing emails with malicious attachments. The emails were sent to bank officials and appeared to come from legitimate companies, but once the malicious software was executed, the criminals were able to take over control of the victims’ infected machines to access the internal banking network and infecting the servers controlling the ATMs. This provided them with the knowledge they needed to cash out the money
The investigation of the group operating in Italy and Romania found that the criminals used the stolen online banking credentials to transfer money from the victims’ accounts into accounts under their control.
Police also found that the group was highly organised and used encrypted chat applications to communicate. Like traditional organised crime groups, the fraud gang operators gained power by applying intimidating and punitive methods towards affiliates and competitors, according to Europol.
The group is also suspected of money laundering, drug and human trafficking, prostitution and participation in a criminal organisation.
During the investigation, Eurojust ensured close contacts and coordination among the prosecuting and investigating authorities in Italy and Romania. Europol supported the case by providing tailored intelligence analysis and expertise to the investigators and deploying mobile offices on the action day to both countries.
Several coordination and operational meetings took place prior to the action at Eurojust and Europol. Due to the demanding investigative measures run on an international level, a joint investigation team was set up between the cooperating countries with the assistance of Eurojust and Europol.