Europol has arrested and identified the leader of the hacking group called the Carbanak gang which is responsible for stealing €1 billion from over 100 financial institutions and banks across 40 countries by laundering the funds using cryptocurrencies in order to hide it from authorities.
The heists that occurred from 2013 to 2016 utilized a malware called Carbanak, which is the gang’s namesake and derived from a precursor program called Anunak. This malware allowed the gang to send fake company emails containing phishing malware that would grant the sender access to the financial institution or ATM systems if an employee at the company clicked on the embedded links. In 2016, the gang updated to a more complex malware called Cobalt which maximized the amounts they could steal up to €10 million per hack. Cobalt worked similarly to Carbanak but allowed the sender complete control over the financial institution and functions which included the ability to make money withdrawals at specific ATMs, wire money into certain accounts, and even modify customer accounts to allow money mules to collect the difference. Once the stolen money was converted to cryptocurrencies using prepaid cards, they were then used to make luxury purchases.
The Carbanak gang was arrested in Spain after a complex investigation by Spanish National Police with help from Europol, Romanian, Moldovan, Belarusian, Taiwanese authorities and the US FBI. Although the identity of the Carbanak gang has not yet been disclosed, Europol stated in a press release that “International police cooperation coordinated by Europol and the Joint Cybercrime Action Taskforce was central in bringing the perpetrators to justice, with the mastermind, coders, mule networks, money launders and victims all located in different geographical locations around the world.” Europol also stressed that without the global cooperation it received, the successful arrest of the cyber criminals would have been very difficult if not unlikely. This was also the first time the European Banking Federation (EBF) cooperated with Europol in an investigation. Wim Mijs, the CEO of EBF stated that the success of the investigation shows the effectiveness of the partnership for fighting against future cyber crimes. As the popularity of using cryptocurrencies for illicit gains rises worldwide due to its anonymity and little to no police presence, the call for authorities to cooperate increases in order to fight back against money laundering online.
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