Hacker ordered to return $1M looted through phishing

After a man was caught for carrying out a series of phishing attacks, a British judge ordered that the $1.1 million in cryptocurrency that he earned from his exploits and selling of personal information of its victims on the deep web should be confiscated.

Judge Korner of Southwark Crown Court ruled that the police department can now confiscate digital currency from Grant West amounting to $1.1 million. In his attacks, West allegedly used the name “Courvoisier” as a pseudonym to hide his true identity. His methods of attacks include phishing emails to gather and acquire customers’ personal information. The information may include personal bank accounts, credit card details, and financial data.

Police have also determined that West is selling the information he gathered from his phishing operations on the dark web.

Phishing is a form of cyberattack in which the attacker is masquerading as a legitimate entity and posing as a trustworthy and legitimate person or company using email or links that was designed for victims to key in their information. Successful phishing messages are difficult to distinguish from real messages. Phishing messages may even contain corporate logos and other graphics and data collected from the company that they are misrepresented.

Phishing as a form of data collection tactic

The target companies were more on general merchandise retailers. Sainsbury, the largest retail chain in the U.K., was also one of its victims. After a thorough investigation on the operation of West, investigators uncovered S.D. cards containing 78million individual usernames and passwords, and there was also information about 63,000 credit and debit cards.

As part of his modus operandi, West would pose as food delivery service Just Eat to carry out to steal financial information from nearly 165,000 customers. The Met Police, who spearheaded the investigation on the case of West, said that this modus did not work well in favor of the hacker, but his activities have cost the company a whooping £200,000 in damages.

After West was able to gather personal information from his targeted entities and business, he would then sell the information on the dark web in exchange of bitcoins, which he stored in multiple accounts.

The popularity of cryptocurrencies among criminal elements have been pushed by the anonymity of the transactions and the ease for money laundering. This is exactly the reason why government officials around the world are skeptical about Facebook’s plan to launch its own cryptocurrency venture, Facebook Libra.

West, who was arrested in 2017, was sentenced to ten years and eight months in prison in May last year for a variety of offenses including conspiracy to defraud and possession of the criminal property. At the time he was arrested, the cryptocurrency that the authorities found under his possession was around $1.96 million, but due to the volatility of the currency, it gave the authorities a hard time to determine the exact amount of the cryptocurrency that was to be confiscated, according to statement given by prosecutor Kevin Barry. 

Victims will be compensated for the damages after the cryptocurrency is sold. 

Cryptocurrency-related crimes have been growing in the U.K. in the past few years. In one incident, a gang of masked men raided a BTC exchange in Birmingham. The incident, which sparked multiple police investigation, also reported that the suspects attempted to steal a Bitcoin automatic teller machine just by using a rope attached to a car.

According to blockchain security company CipherTrace, the total amount of misappropriation of funds and scams resulted in a $4.3 billion in losses throughout 2019 alone. 

The judge’s decision to have the looted cryptocurrency confiscated from West is not the first time that police took back stolen digital money from hackers. In July 2018, Sergej Teresko, a senior member of an organized criminal group, was ordered by the court to surrender £1.2 million worth of cryptocurrency that he and his cohorts have stolen. The currency was converted into sterling and Surrey Police were given permission to keep the money for the government and police funds.

Head of the Met’s Cyber Crime Unit, Detective Chief Inspector Kirsty Goldsmith, said: “The MPS is committed to ensuring that individuals who are committing criminality on the Dark Web are identified, prosecuted, and their criminal assets are seized.”

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