Interpol shut down a sexual extortion (sextortion) ring based primarily in Hong Kong that deceived people into downloading a malicious mobile app and stole their contact list. This allowed the cybercriminals to blackmail their victims with threats of releasing private, sensitive photos and videos.
“The cybercriminals contacted their victims, based mainly in Hong Kong (China) and Singapore, through online sex and dating platforms before asking them to download a malicious mobile application via a hyperlink to engage in ‘naked chats,’” explained Interpol in an announcement on Monday.
The criminals designed the app in order to steal their targets’ contact list. The victims would then be blackmailed by the threat of releasing the videos and photos to their contact list. Using these methods, the cybercriminals were able to extort around $47,000 worth of funds.
”We conducted a proactive investigation and in-depth analysis of a zombie command and control server hosting the malicious application, which – along with the joint efforts by our counterparts – allowed us to identify and locate individuals linked to the criminal syndicate,” said Raymond Lam Cheuk Ho, acting head of the Hong Kong Police’s Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau.
In two months, 12 suspects have been arrested for involvement with this sextortion ring. The Hong Kong police said that this wouldn’t have been possible without collaboration from multiple countries’ law enforcement agencies.
Additionally, Interpol warned of this new type of cybercrime and said that sextortion attempts have been on the rise, especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency also launched an awareness campaign on cybersecurity threats in June. The aim of this campaign is to inform as many people as possible that a single click on a malicious link or a photo sent to someone can have significant ramifications.
The campaign also recommend that victims of sextortion or other cybercrimes follow the following steps:
- End all contact with the suspected cybercriminals.
- Don’t pay or provide further images or information to the suspected cybercriminals.
- Keep or assemble any evidence of the crime.
- Report the crime to the police.