€1bn cyber-crime ‘boss’ seized
The Ukrainian national, identified as Denis K, was detained in Alicante (pictured) with three associates, the Spanish Interior Ministry said.
The ministry said Alicante police seized jewels worth €500,000 and two luxury cars. It also froze bank accounts and blocked off two homes valued at about €1 million.
Europol said the gang stole more than €1 billion over five years by attacking more than 100 financial institutions with software. It said almost all Russian banks were targeted.
Denis K allegedly ran the cybercriminal network from Spain since 2013.
The gang reportedly sent phishing emails to bank staff with attachments containing “Carbanak” and “Cobalt” viruses. If an email was opened, the software installed itself on the bank’s server, allowing hackers to take control of accounts and ATMs.
The organisation allegedly needed the support of other criminal groups to organise “mules” they used to extract money from cash points that they attacked. Until 2015 the group worked with the Russian mafia and the Moldovan organisations after 2016.
“With that level of access, the nefarious individuals authorise fraudulent bank transfers, raise the balances of mule accounts or command affected ATMs to spit out the money for them,” Europol told the media.
“The Cobalt malware alone allowed criminals to steal up to €10 million per heist,” the European police agency added.
The gang used three separate generations of malware, each one more sophisticated than the last, to penetrate and hide on financial networks.
The syndicate’s earnings were converted into bitcoins at exchange houses in Ukraine and Russia before being transferred to their accounts which accumulated about 15,000 bitcoin, Spain’s Interior Ministry said.
Denis K is accused of using financial platforms in Gibraltar and the UK to load prepaid cards with bitcoins and spend them on luxury goods in Spain.
He also allegedly set up an “enormous network” to mine bitcoin which he used to launder money.
The probe was led by the Spanish police, with assistance from software companies and the authorities in the US, Romania, Belarus and Taiwan.
The arrest marked a “significant success”, said Steven Wilson, head of Europol’s Cyber-Crime Centre, which coordinated the probe.
“The arrest of the key figure in this crime group illustrates that cyber criminals can no longer hide behind perceived international anonymity,” he added.
Alicante, Spain, near Benidorm. Picture credit: Wikimedia