UK police have made four arrests as part of an international crackdown on cyber criminals who use malware tools to hijack computers and steal data.
The UK raids were led by the National Crime Agency (NCA), and involved officers from a number of police Regional Organised Crime Units (ROCUs).
The international operation was co-ordinated through Europol, and focused on the threat posed by tools known as remote access trojans.
Police in Estonia, France, Romania, Latvia, Italy and Norway made 11 further arrests.
In the UK, two 33-year-old men and a 30-year-old woman were arrested in Leeds, and a 20-year-old man was arrested in Kent.
Police executed a search warrant on a 19-year-old man from Liverpool, who had been brought in for voluntary questioning
The NCA said that, in addition to arresting people believed to be using remote access trojans, police use a variety of approaches to warn individuals that any movement into cyber criminality will result in further action.
The MO of the trojan criminal
Cyber criminals typically use remote access trojans to gain control over target computers, wherever they are in the world.
This means they can turn victims’ webcams on and off, access banking or other personal information, download new and illegal content, and instruct the victim’s computer to help commit acts of criminality, such as distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks.
Victims are typically infected by being convinced to click on a link purporting to be a picture or video, or disguised as a legitimate file, but is instead an installer for the remote access trojan.
In many cases, those who unwittingly install such trojans have no indication that their machine is infected.
“The illegal use of remote access trojans is a significant cyber crime threat, demanding this kind of strong, co-ordinated response from international to local UK level,” said Andy Archibald, deputy director of the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU).
“Suspected users of remote access trojans are continuing to find that, despite having no physical contact or interaction with their victims, they can still be identified, tracked down and arrested by the NCA and its partners.”
Archibald said the operation demonstrated that all of UK law enforcement is working to respond effectively to cyber crime.
“Together we will continue to collaboratively target those who use technology to misuse other people’s devices, steal their money or unlawfully access confidential information,” he said.
“Anyone who is tempted to get involved in this type of crime should understand that it can result in prison time, and substantial restrictions on your life afterwards.”
In May 2014, the NCCU arrested 17 suspects in an operation against the trojan-producing Blackshades malware, in collaboration with nearly every UK regional organised crime unit as well as Police Scotland and the Metropolitan Police.
Further arrests took place in the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Austria, Estonia, Denmark, Canada, Chile, Croatia and Italy, taking the total number of arrests in connection with Blackshades to 97.
Peter Goodman, East Midlands deputy chief constable and ACPO cyber crime lead, said cyber criminals are using sophisticated technology to breach online security systems and to conceal their digital tracks.
“However, the police forces in the UK and overseas have the expertise to identify and disrupt those who are determined to access computers to steal data or to commit serious offences, wherever they are in the world,” he said.
Goodman said individuals and businesses should do everything they can to safeguard their data, by following the advice available on sites such as Cyber Streetwise and Get Safe Online.
To reduce the risk of being targeted by malicious remote access trojans, the NCA said computer users should avoid clicking on unknown links and files sent from unidentified or suspicious sources.
It is also vital to ensure security software and computer operating systems are kept up to date, the NCA said.
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