Russian authorities have broken up a gang of modern-day internet pirates who ambushed people’s computers to steal their YouTube accounts.
Police carried out a series of raids in Penza in western Russia, arresting six people—all between the ages of 17 and 20—on Aug. 18, according to a press release from the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs.
The cybercriminals allegedly used malware and other tricks to gain access to computers where they would then attempt to steal access codes for social media accounts. Then, they would take over those accounts, denying the original owner access.
In a statement to Zenger News, police mapped out how the plot unfolded. Starting in January, three of the attackers “agreed to create a malicious computer program designed to illegally obtain data from Internet users and neutralize information security tools.”
That original trio was later joined by three more accomplices. “They followed strict secrecy measures – they sought anonymity by spoofing IP addresses, using virtual mobile phone numbers and communicating via instant messengers.”
The program remained unnoticed by antivirus tools and allowed the suspects, without the knowledge of users, to illegally copy information about logins and passwords to access various Internet services, with the main priority being to seize YouTube accounts.
“With this information, the participants in the criminal scheme got access to the users’ channels on the video hosting platform and created new logins and passwords, thereby depriving the owners of the opportunity to perform any actions with them,” the statement said.
“Then, through shadowy Internet sites, the suspects sold information to interested parties that would allow them to manage these channels…. Then, through shadowy Internet sites, the suspects sold information to interested parties that would allow them to manage these channels. For such operations, the attackers received an average of $300.”
Prices in the Russian cybercrime market are reportedly falling because so many are active in the black market, according to Bank Info Security.
But the potential payoff for those who took over the YouTube channels can be significant. Channels with large followings can earn thousands of dollars a month from advertising payments that occur every time someone watches a video on them.
Irina Volk, of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs, said in the course of nine searches in the recent raids, computers, laptops, cell phones and other information-carrying devices were seized. Those arrested have been released on their own recognizance.
“Measures are being taken to establish all the circumstances of their illegal activities. Preliminary investigations continue,” Volk said.
If found guilty, the hackers could face up to three years behind bars.
(Edited by Stephen Gugliociello and Matthew Hall.)