Technology behind 'all serious crime'

23 March 2017

Man pleads guilty over $500m malware scam


Following Europol’s statement that technology is now at the “root” of all serious criminality, a Russian man has pleaded guilty for spreading a computer virus which cost victims more than $500m (£401m).

Mark Vartanyan, who faces up to 10 years in prision, developed and distributed the Citadel Trojan, which lets criminals steal bank account details and hold files to ransom.

US prosecutors said it had infected about 11 million computers worldwide. Launched in 2011, Citadel was marketed on invitation-only, Russian-language internet forums used by cyber-criminals. Prosecutors said its users had targeted the computer networks of major financial and government institutions around the world.

Vartanyan agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for a reduced prison term. He will be sentenced in June. In September 2015, a US court sentenced Russian citizen Dimitry Belorossov to four years and six months in prison after he admitted distributing and installing Citadel on to computers.

Europe's police agency, Europol, stated in a study earlier this month that the wider use of technology by criminal gangs poses the "greatest challenge" to police forces, with the returns generated by document fraud, money laundering and online trade in illegal goods helping to pay for other damaging crimes.

Many groups now use cyber-crime campaigns, including ransomware, to generate cash that is then used to bankroll people and drug trafficking operations. Burglars often track social media posts to work out when people are away from their homes.

According to Action Fraud, a record 172,919 identity frauds were recorded in 2016; more than in any other previous year.

These figures come from a report by Cifas, a leading UK fraud prevention service, who also claim that nine out of ten raudulent applications for bank accounts and other financial products are now made online.  

The vast majority of identity fraud happens when a fraudster pretends to be an innocent individual to buy a product or take out a loan in their name. Often victims do not even realise that they have been targeted until a bill arrives for something they did not buy or they experience problems with their credit rating.

To carry out this kind of fraud successfully, fraudsters need access to their victim’s personal information such as name, date of birth, address, their bank and who they hold accounts with. Fraudsters get hold of this in a variety of ways, from stealing mail through to hacking; obtaining data on the ‘dark web’; exploiting personal information on social media, or though ‘social engineering’ where innocent parties are persuaded to give up personal information to someone pretending to be from their bank or a trusted retailer.

 “There are three simple steps that anyone can take to protect themselves”, says Cifas Deputy Chief Executive Mike Haley.

“Use strong passwords, download software updates when prompted on your devices; and avoid using public wi-fi for banking and online shopping.

“We all remember to protect our possessions through locking our house or flat or car but we don’t take the same care to protect our most important asset – our identities. We all need to take responsibility to secure our mail boxes, shred our important documents like bank statements and utility bills, and take sensible precautions online – otherwise we are making ourselves a target for the identity fraudster.”








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