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Wednesday, 10 April 2019 05:52

UK jails crime group member for Windows ransomware attacks

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Zain Qaiser who was jailed for six years and five months for Windows ransomware attacks. Zain Qaiser who was jailed for six years and five months for Windows ransomware attacks. Courtesy NCA

A member of a Russian-speaking organised crime group has been jailed for six years and five months in the UK for targeting millions of PCs with Windows ransomware, according to Britain's National Crime Agency.

In a statement, the NCA said Zain Qaiser, 24, of Barking in Essex, had profited a great deal from his activities, getting money from people in more than 20 countries.

The NCA claimed its investigators had determined that Qaiser had made more then £700,000 (A$1.28 billion) from his global campaign of infecting Windows PCs with ransomware.

It said he spent his earnings on stays in luxury hotels, prostitutes, gambling, drugs and buying luxury items, including a Rolex watch that cost £5000. In one 10-month period, Qaiser was claimed to have spend £68,00 on gambling in a London casino at a time when he was apparently unemployed and living with his parents.

The NCA said Qaiser had bought advertising space on pornographic websites using the online name KIING and used the ads to spread ransomware.

"When users clicked on the ads they were redirected to another website, hosting highly-sophisticated malware strains including the infamous Angler Exploit Kit – believed to have been created, managed and marketed by one of Qaiser’s Russian-speaking associates," the NCA said. "Users with any vulnerabilities would subsequently be infected with a malicious payload."

lock screen Qaiser

The ransom demand that appeared on PCs that Zain Qaiser infected with Windows ransomware.

It said one malicious payload used was called Reveton. This would lock a user's browser. "Once locked, the infected device would display a message purporting to be from a law enforcement or a government agency, which claimed an offence had been committed and the victim had to pay a fine of anything between $300-$1000 in order to unlock their device."

Qaiser's victims were directed to pay the ransom in cryptocurrencies which would then be laundered using his contacts abroad.

"For example, one of Qaiser’s international accomplices in the US transferred ransom payments onto pre-loaded credit cards in fraudulent identities, withdrew that cash at locations throughout the US, converted it into crypto-currency, and transferred it to Qaiser," the NCA pointed out.

Qaiser was first arrested in July 2014 and charged in February 2017. After NCA investigators identified a series of accounts linked to him, which had received in excess of £100,000, he was arrested again in December 2018.

The NCA said he had admitted to 11 offences, including blackmail, fraud, money laundering and computer misuse, and was jailed at London's Kingston Crown Court on Tuesday.

NCA senior investigating officer Nigel Leary said: "This was one of the most sophisticated, serious and organised cyber crime groups the National Crime Agency has ever investigated. The group owned and operated the Angler Exploit Kit – one of the most successful and closely guarded pieces of malicious software ever developed by the cyber crime community.

“Zain Qaiser was an integral part of this organised crime group generating millions of pounds in ransom payments by blackmailing countless victims and threatening them with bogus police investigations. In addition, when Qaiser’s criminal enterprise was frustrated by diligent members of the online advertising community, he retaliated causing misery and hundreds of thousands of pounds in financial losses.

“This was an extremely long-running, complex cyber-crime investigation in which we worked with partners in the US, Canada, Europe and the Crown Prosecution Service. The FBI and the US Secret Service have both arrested people in relation to this global malware campaign.

“The investigation demonstrates that cyber criminals cannot operate from behind a veil of anonymity, and that the NCA has the tenacity and specialist skills to catch them and bring them to justice. The international law enforcement community will continue to work together to counter the threat of borderless cyber crime.”

Screenshot and photo: courtesy NCA

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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