UPDATED: 10 held in Europol coordinated operation for alleged $100m cryptocurrency theft

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Europol, the European police agency, announced it had assisted in the arrest of 10 hackers suspected of stealing $100 million in cryptocurrency in “SIM-swapping” attacks that allowed suspects to gain access to their victims’ phones.

“The attacks orchestrated by this criminal gang targeted thousands of victims throughout 2020, including famous internet influencers, sport stars, musicians and their families,” the agency said in a statement.

The arrests were made after an investigation with cooperation from Britain, the United States, Belgium, Malta and Canada, Europol said.

MaltaToday reported that a 17-year-old Maltese national was arrested during an international investigation.

The Maltese police say that their involvement in the case began in November 2019, after the Cyber Crime Section received information from the US about a suspicion that a Maltese person allegedly illegally entered the Instagram profiles of several celebrities and subsequently began blackmailing them.

Searches conducted at the Maltese national’s residence led to the seizure of electronic devices, luxury clothing and other equipment allegedly purchased from stolen credit cards.

In a SIM-swapping attack, criminals can gain control over a SIM – the small computer chip that carries a phone number used to identify a customer on a telecommunication network. Usually a phone company is tricked into deactivating a working SIM and transferring its functions to one controlled by the hackers.

“This enabled (hackers) to steal money, cryptocurrencies and personal information, including contacts synced with online accounts,” Europol said in a press statement detailing the operation.

“They also hijacked social media accounts to post content and send messages masquerading as the victim.”

Europol did not identify the victims or say where the arrests took place. It advised the public not to use services that use text messages to help log in to online accounts, as these are vulnerable in SIM-swapping attacks, which it said are on the rise.

One of the most notable victims of a SIM-swapping attack in the past was Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, in 2019.

Main Photo: (FILE) – An exterior view of the Europol headquarters, the alliance of the European Union police and a multinational research organization, in The Hague, The Netherlands. EPA/LEX VAN LIESHOUT

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