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International cyber crime crack-down leads to four UK arrests

Four people from across the UK have been arrested on suspicion of using systems testing malware to bypass antivirus software

An international law enforcement operation has led to four UK arrests of people suspected of cyber crimes.  

The arrests were made as part of an international investigation targeting the suspected use of a counter antivirus platform and crypter service which allows them to test malware samples to prevent antivirus software from recognising them as malicious.  

In the UK, the operation, which took place between 5 and 9 June, was led by regional organised crime units (ROCUs) and led to arrests in Wales, Yorkshire and Humber, South Eastern and Eastern regions.

As well as leading to four arrests, officers conducted 31 “cease and desist” visits to young people who were either first time offenders “or on the fringes of offending” and may not know what the malware can do.

David Cox, senior investigating officer from the National Crime Agency’s (NCA) national cyber crime unit, said the ROCUs had taken “swift effective action against those who attempt to use malicious software, and have also played a vital part in deterring young offenders from committing cyber crimes in the future”.

“I think a lot of people who put antivirus protection on their computers would be astonished that there is a whole industry dedicated to trying to get around that protection. It’s why keeping antivirus software up to date is so important,” he said.

The pan-European investigation targeted suspected cyber criminals in six countries and was triggered by data shared with several international partners by Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre and the Joint Cyber Crime Action.

According to Europol, the operation first began in Germany in April 2016, with officers targeting  people suspected of creating a “counter antivirus platform and a crypter service” as well as German customers of those services.

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Earlier in June 2017, the second phase of the operation targeted international customers in five countries: the UK, Cyprus, Norway, the Netherlands and Italy.

Cox said malware tested through counter antivirus platforms “poses a significant criminal threat to the UK”, as demonstrated by the WannaCry cyber attack in May 2017.

“Law enforcement is working collaboratively and proactively to prevent and mitigate further attacks. Denying criminals the ability to test their malware before deploying it can severely disrupt their success and their profit margins,” he said.

“The response to this kind of threat is a global one, and the NCA is part of an international network which attacks not only the cyber criminals themselves but the services they provide for each other.”

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