The European police agency Europol has confirmed that it successfully dismantled one of the most efficient cyber crime organizations in operation.
The organization was led by a group of Russians that allegedly extorted millions of euros from online users from more than 30 different countries. Most of the users in targeted countries were Europeans and had been persuaded to pay fees that were allegedly for abusive use of the Internet.
The first arrest came in December of 2012 when the head of the crime network was arrested in Dubai. This month, Spanish police were able to arrest 10 additional people affiliated with the crime network. Six of those people were Russians, two were Ukrainians, and two were Georgians. The arrests were made in Costa Del Sol in southern Spain, where cyber criminals were believed to maintain their primary base of operations.
While European authorities are saying that the network has been broken up, they are quick to point out that investigations into other cells outside of Europe are continuing. The cyber criminals used a form of online extortion called ransomware that locked up the user’s computer with a message that appeared to be a police warning and demanded users pay €100 to unlock the computer.
“This is the first major success of its kind against a very new phenomenon that we have only identified in the last two years,” Rob Wainwright, the director of Europol, said at a news conference at the Interior Ministry in Madrid.
“This is a mass marketing scam to distribute this thousands of times and rely on the fact that even if only 2 percent fall victim to the scam, it is still a very good pickup rate.”
According to Wainwright 3% of the people who had the malware on their computer had paid the fake fines. Authorities have offered no estimates of how much money the criminals raised overall, but authorities believe that the network raised approximately €1 million in Spain alone.