Nine Individuals Connected to a Hacking Group Charged With Online Identity Theft and Other Related Charges
Six individuals connected to a hacking group known to its members as “The Community” were charged in a fifteen count indictment unsealed today with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, announced United States Attorney Matthew Schneider.
In addition, a criminal complaint was unsealed charging three former employees of mobile phone providers with wire fraud in relation to the conspiracy.
“SIM Hijacking” or “SIM Swapping” is an identity theft technique that exploits a common cyber-security weakness – mobile phone numbers. This tactic enabled “The Community” to gain control of victims’ mobile phone number, resulting in the victims’ phone calls and short message service (“SMS”) messages being routed to devices controlled by “The Community”.
According to the indictment, the defendants are members of “The Community” and are alleged to have participated in thefts of victims’ identities in order to steal cryptocurrency via a method known as “SIM Hijacking”. Cryptocurrencies, also known as virtual currencies or digital currencies, are online media of exchange. The most famous of these is Bitcoin. Like traditional currency, they act as a store of value and can be exchanged for goods and services. They can also be exchanged for dollars.
“SIM Hijacking” was often facilitated by bribing an employee of a mobile phone provider. Other times, SIM Hijacking was accomplished by a member of “The Community” contacting a mobile phone provider’s customer service—posing as the victim—and requesting that the victim’s phone number be swapped to a SIM card (and thus a mobile device) controlled by “The Community”.
The indictment alleges that, once “The Community” had control of a victim’s phone number, the phone number was leveraged as a gateway to gain control of online accounts such as a victim’s email, cloud storage, and cryptocurrency exchange accounts. For example, “The Community” would use their control of victims’ phone numbers to reset passwords on online accounts and/or request two-factor authentication (2FA) codes that allowed them to bypass security measures.
The members of “The Community” charged in the indictment endeavored to gain control of victims’ cryptocurrency wallets or online cryptocurrency exchange accounts and steal victims’ funds. It is alleged in the indictment that the defendants executed seven attacks that resulted in the theft of cryptocurrency valued at approximately $2,416,352.
What to Do When You’ve Been Hacked
Contact LIFARS.com Cyber Incident Response Team immediately
How to prevent a SIM swap attack?
Users can help protect cellular devices from SIM swap attacks in the following ways:
Avoid relying on SMS for primary communication as the data is not encrypted;
Keep personal information utilized for protecting accounts private;
Verify the types of alerts set up for each account to identify false logon attempts;
Utilize the offer from every major US cell phone provider to set up an account PIN or passcode separate from the number;
Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) for social media, credit card and bank accounts;
Download authenticator apps, such as Google Authenticator and Authy, to link the physical cellular device;
Remove cell phone numbers from accounts that do not require one;