Ten members of an alleged criminal network have been arrested in Europe, after having stolen bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies from the cell phones of their victims. This is reported by reports from Europol, where it is estimated that the theft amounts to 100 million dollars and has affected several American celebrities.
Although the authorities have not specified – with first and last names – who were the people affected by this theft, Europol states that the attack was focused on influential Internet figures ( influencers ), sports stars and musicians residing in the United States.
The criminals managed to steal the money from their victims by exchanging the SIM card of their cell phones. This type of attack is known as “SIM swap”, and it is commonly used by hackers to get their victims’ phone numbers and steal their personal data. If successful, an attacker can change the password of the bank accounts or financial applications affiliated with that SIM; thus stealing the money of these people.
According to investigations by Europol, in conjunction with police authorities from the United Kingdom, Belgium, Malta, Canada and the United States, it was determined that the criminal network used the providers of telephone service to violate the SIMs of their victims. In this way, they deactivate the SIM card of the person under attack and transferred it to a phone under their domain. With the telephone line in their possession, the criminals violated the authentication methods of their victims’ applications, and entered bank accounts and cryptocurrency wallets.
The attack occurred in the course of 2020, even subtracting not only the money of those affected but also their personal information. Even, some of these celebrities who were involved in the attack lost access to their social networks and criminals published content on them without their consent . Due to this, the authorities began an investigation process to determine those responsible.
The Europol statement notes that 8 of the arrested members fell in a coordinated operation in the United Kingdom. Likewise, it was noted that the other two remaining members were found in the territory of Malta and Belgium respectively.
SIM swapping attacks are dangerous for bitcoin users
Faced with this attack of great proportions, the police authorities affirm that Internet users must take certain security considerations to avoid being the target of a SIM exchange. For example, it is recommended to limit personal and financial data on social networks so as not to become a target for hackers.
It is also It is important not to reply to suspicious emails or messages, even if they come from known applications, since they could be a case of phishing to expose your SIM card. The use of 2-factor authentication in messaging applications, as well as bank accounts and cryptocurrency wallets, is also important to secure personal information.
Regarding users of bitcoin and other digital assets, it is important to mention that online wallet applications for cell phones are not always the safest. If you have funds of large amounts in bitcoin it is best to use a hardware (or cold) wallet, which is not connected to the Internet at all times and, therefore, it is more difficult for a hacker to access it.
It is not the first time that the SIM Swap splashes into the world of cryptocurrencies. For example, in mid-June there was an alert for users of the Coinsquare app about the possibility that their SIMs were exchanged. In addition, some criminals in Spain have used digital assets to launder money they stole doing SIM swaps, as reported by CriptoNoticias.
Even the famous Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, has not been able to escape of the vulnerability generated by SIM attacks, after in 2019 it was a victim of one of these. In this sense, it is becoming increasingly noticeable that exchange attacks are an increasingly widespread form of theft of credentials and money on the Internet.