Interpol claims to have dismantled an international cybercrime ring that made an estimated $47,000 from extorting dozens of victims.
The policing organization said it had traced at least 34 cases back to the syndicate, which contacted victims mainly in Hong Kong and Singapore through online sex and dating platforms.
They would apparently trick the victim into downloading an app to their device, in order to engage in “naked chats.” However, the app actually contained malware designed to steal the victim’s contacts.
The extorters would then threaten to send naked videos taken via the app to the victim’s contact list unless they paid up.
“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.
“I am convinced that no single police agency would have been able to achieve this result alone. The international police collaboration through Interpol was absolutely crucial.”
Sextortionists don’t always have any compromising content on their victims, as in the case of this group.
Sometimes victims are spammed with messages claiming that the perpetrator has covertly videoed them through their webcam. Often, they might use breached information such as email addresses and passwords to add legitimacy to their threats.
However, it is a growing threat that necessitates a stronger response, Interpol has reasoned.
Back in June, the group launched a public awareness campaign, #YouMayBeNext, with the support of 75 member countries. It covered not just sextortion but also ransomware and DDoS attacks, which are also used as tools to blackmail users and organizations.
Interpol advised any victim of sextortion or similar threats to cease contact with the malicious actor, collect as much evidence as possible and report their ordeal to the police. It urged victims not to pay their extorters.