Global hunt for cyber criminals behind online black market

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Seventy people across the globe have been charged or face search warrants in connection to the online hacking marketplace Darkode, which has been shut down in an investigation that spanned 20 countries in the largest takedown of a cyber crime forum.

Darkode was used by cyber criminals as a black market for credit card data, hacking tools, ransomware, email addresses and other information useful in targeting individuals, companies and governments.

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Of the 70 people wanted in relation to Darkode, 28 have been arrested and 12 are facing charges in the US. A notice on darkode.com on Wednesday said the domain and website had been seized by the FBI and the US attorney’s office in Pittsburgh.

“Of the roughly 800 criminal internet forums worldwide, Darkode represented one of the gravest threats to the integrity of data on computers in the United States and around the world and was the most sophisticated English-speaking forum for criminal computer hackers in the world,” said David Hickton, the US attorney in Pittsburgh. “We have dismantled a cyber hornets’ nest and now we’re going after the hornets.”

The FBI was able to infiltrate Darkode at the organisation’s highest levels in what was dubbed Operation Shrouded Horizon. This led to breakthroughs in the case, said Scott Smith, special agent in charge of the FBI office in Pittsburgh.

Access to Darkode, which was created about seven years ago, was strictly controlled in a sophisticated structure with numerous administrators, making it difficult for law enforcement agencies to penetrate.

Morgan Culbertson of Pittsburgh, one of those charged in the case, is accused of designing malware to gain remote access to and steal data from Android-based mobile phones. The malware was on sale on Darkode.

Another person charged, Eric Crocker of Binghamton, New York, is alleged to have used a virus spreader that infected computers of Facebook users. This allowed him to launch mass spam campaigns.

Attorneys for Messrs Culbertson and Crocker could not be reached for comment.

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Hacking group Lizard Squad, which has been linked to cyber breaches of Xbox Live, PlayStation and the Twitter account of singer Taylor Swift, is known to be a user of Darkode.

Many of the countries that participated in the Darkode case often co-operate with US authorities on cyber crime, such as the UK, Germany and Canada.

Others that normally do not participate in such cases were also involved, such as Costa Rica, Brazil, Colombia and Macedonia, Mr Hickton said.

The US attorney’s office and FBI field office in Pittsburgh have led other major cyber investigations, including the indictment of five members of the Chinese military last May for hacking into five US companies.

Source: Ft.com

 

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