Law enforcement officers from Spain and the UK have arrested five people as part of Europol-backed investigation into the activities of a cyber crime gang.
The five suspects, made up of three people from Spain and two from Britain, are alleged to have developed and sold sophisticated software tools designed to make malware undetectable by security products.
Sold via hacking forums in exchange for payment in virtual currency Bitcoin, the software facilitated the distribution key loggers and Remote Access Trojans that allow cyber criminals to take full control of a victim’s computer and steal personal information and banking details.
Various properties in Spain, the UK and the Canary Islands were raided as part of the operation, during which investigators seized six hard drives, a laptop, two external storage devices, eight Bitcoin mining devices and numerous documents, according to a statement from Europol.
Europe’s crime fighting agency said it provided on-the-spot assistance to officers conducting the operation, deploying experts from its European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) to the UK and Spain to offer real-time intelligence analysis and forensic support.
The activities of the group are evidence of a growing trend among hackers to use encryption and anonymity services, Europol said.
“National Police agents have dismantled an international group of cybercriminals specialising in the design, development and marketing of sophisticated tools to provide invisibility (encryption) to all kinds of malware to infect thousands of computers worldwide,” a police statement said.
The arrests were made days before the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) published new research that suggests young cyber criminals are motivated primarily by peer respect and accomplishment rather than financial gain.
One young hacker who was jailed for a number of cyber offences told researchers that he committed his crimes as they made him popular and won him the respect of his peers. Another, who was a member of a hacking collective that sold DDoS tools and botnet services, said a warning from police would have made him stop his illegal activities.
Richard Jones, Head of the NCA’s Prevent team, said: Even the most basic forms of cyber crime can have huge impacts and the NCA and police will arrest and prosecute offenders, which can be devastating to their future.
“That means there is great value in reaching young people before they ever become involved in cyber crime, when their skills can still be a force for good.
“The aim of this assessment has been to understand the pathways offenders take, and identify the most effective intervention points to divert them towards a more positive path.
“That can be as simple as highlighting opportunities in coding and programming, or jobs in the gaming and cyber industries, which still give them the sense of accomplishment and respect they are seeking.”