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Spain catches cybercriminal 'mastermind'

March 26, 2018

Police in southeastern Spain have arrested the suspected ringleader of a notorious cybercrime syndicate accused of stealing more than a billion euros. The gang allegedly targeted dozens of banks around the world.

A man types on a keyboard
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Stein

Spanish authorities arrest international cybercrime gang leader

The individual, a Ukrainian national identified only as Denis K., was detained in the coastal city of Alicante with three accomplices, Spain's Interior Ministry said Monday.

According to Europol, the syndicate stole more than €1 billion ($1.24 billion) in a five-year spree by attacking over 100 financial institutions with malicious software. Authorities said almost all of Russia's banks were targeted.

Denis K. had allegedly directed the international cybercriminal gang from Spain since 2013.

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Data security and cybercrime

How they stole the money

The syndicate sent phishing emails to bank employees with attachments containing software known as "Carbanak" and "Cobalt." Once an email was opened, the software installed itself on the bank's server, allowing the hackers to gain control of bank accounts and automatic teller machines.

"With that level of access, the nefarious individuals authorize fraudulent bank transfers, raise the balances of mule accounts or command affected ATMs to spit out the money for them," Europol said.

"The Cobalt malware alone allowed criminals to steal up to €10 million per heist," the pan-European police body added.

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Global operation

The syndicate's earnings were converted into bitcoins at exchange houses in Ukraine and Russia before being transferred to their accounts, Spain's Interior Ministry said.

Denis K. reportedly used financial platforms in Gibraltar and the UK to load prepaid cards with bitcoin and spend them in Spain on cars, homes and other goods.

Read moreCybercrime just tip of iceberg in organized criminality, study finds

The criminal investigation was led by Spanish police, with assistance from various software companies, as well as law enforcement authorities in the United States, Romania, Belarus and Taiwan. 

nm/cmk (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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