Cybercrime: Sports cars and millions of dollars seized in busts

Title: Major Global Takedowns of Cybercrime Networks

Author: Tom Gerken (Technology Reporter)

Date: May 30, 2024

Two significant global operations have been executed to dismantle cybercrime networks responsible for defrauding people of billions.

The United States has made an arrest of Chinese national, YunHe Wang, and confiscated luxury assets including a Ferrari, numerous luxury watches, and 21 properties. In Europe, four arrests have been made, but eight fugitives are at large and will be added to Europe’s most wanted list.

Both the US Department of Justice (DoJ) and Europol claim their operations as the biggest takedowns of a “botnet” in the world. Cybercriminals utilize botnets to gain control over peoples’ computers, installing malicious software to collect data, send spam, and even delete data without the owner’s knowledge.

According to the DoJ, Mr. Wang is accused of orchestrating the hacking of over 19 million devices across nearly 200 countries through a botnet. By selling access to the infected computers to other cybercriminals, fraud, child exploitation, harassment, and even bomb threats occurred. Moreover, the DOJ estimates that more than 500,000 fraudulent unemployment insurance claims were sent from computers under Mr. Wang’s control, leading to a loss of over $5.9bn (£4.6bn).

The DoJ accused Mr. Wang of using the funds to purchase $60m worth of luxury assets, including vehicles like a Ferrari, a Rolls-Royce, two BMWs, and various watches. The agency also seized bank accounts, cryptocurrency wallets, and properties in various countries such as the US, St Kitts and Nevis, China, Singapore, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates.

Assistance was provided during the investigation by law enforcement agencies in Singapore, Thailand, and technology giant Microsoft. Mr. Wang faces charges of conspiracy to commit computer fraud, substantive computer fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering, with a potential sentence of 65 years in prison if convicted on all counts.

Europol also took down the ringleaders of multiple cybercrime networks using botnets, resulting in arrests in Armenia and Ukraine. The organization also took down servers globally, including in the UK, the US, and Germany, gaining control of over 2,000 websites. The main suspect is believed to have made more than €69 million (£58m) in cryptocurrency through ransomware, while eight fugitives who are wanted in Germany for their involvement in cybercrime will be added to Europe’s most wanted list.

The malicious software spread through phishing attempts and compromised websites. Operation Endgame, led by Europol, is ongoing, with plans for future busts.