Sports stars, musicians, internet influencers. Wondering what they have in common apart from their lavish lifestyles? Well, they have had more than 100 million USD worth of cryptocurrency stolen from them, after hackers had illegally gained access to their phones.
Thousands of victims have been targeted by these attackers throughout 2020. Investigations were carried out by law enforcement agencies of the UK, USA, Belgium, Malta, Canada, and Europol. The investigations culminated in the arrests of 8 cybersecurity criminals.
A dozen criminals had joined forces to access the victims’ phone numbers and take control of the apps installed on their phones, and social media accounts by changing the passwords. The hackers also posted dubious and fraudulent messages from the victims’ social media accounts.
This type of hacking is known as “Sim Swapping”. This method of hacking has recently gained prominence. The cybercriminal takes over the mobile device of the victim by deactivating the victim’s SIM card and then they port the number to a SIM belonging to a fellow cybercriminal.
This type of hacking involves colluding with an insider from a phone service company or by using social engineering techniques.
Europol had played a key role in unearthing the activities of the criminals and nabbing them. Europol’s European Cybercrime Center (EC3), supported the case from the onset by:
- Organising operational meetings to coordinate the international activity
- Facilitating the information exchange between all partners and cross-checking data sent in by the partners against Europol’s databases;
- Supporting the action day by setting up a Virtual Command Post to provide to the investigators in the field real time and secure exchange of information and analytical support.
Tips to protect oneself from hackers
Nobody is safe from the grasp of the cybercriminals. Anyone anywhere can be a victim of hacking. However, we must be prudent and take all measures to safeguard ourselves. Some of the ways to do that are:
- Update your devices’ software to the latest version
- Do not share personal information online
- Do not link your phone number with sensitive and confidential online accounts
- Use 2FA (two-factor) authentication for all your online services, instead of opting for an OTP/ authentication code over SMS
- Never respond to suspicious emails or phone calls asking for personal information
There have been several instances of people being victimized through Sim Swapping. Let’s hope that none of us are affected by this, and we stay safe.