Authorities in Colombia have dismantled a network of hackers accused of stealing over $5 million from electronic bank accounts, in a case that highlights the fast paced evolution of cyber crime and the potential profits it offers.
On June 17, Colombian police announced the capture of 12 alleged hackers from a group accused of stealing the financial information of 15,000 people and using their bank accounts to finance a social security scam.
Police said three of the suspects sent out e-mails containing links to a spy program that copied bank account and password information from the recipient’s computer. The other members of the group contacted businesses and offered to process the social security payments of their independent workers at a steeply discounted price. The group then used the stolen financial information to make social security payments from victims’ bank accounts through an online payment program.
In total, the hackers allegedly stole over $5.2 million from accounts affiliated with 11 different banks on the Caribbean Coast and in the cities of Cali, Bogota and Bucaramanga. The suspects were captured in the coastal cities of Barranquilla, Santa Marta and Cartagena.
InSight Crime Analysis
Cyber crime has become a serious problem throughout Latin America as law enforcement struggles to keep up with continually improving criminal technology and methods. Over half of companies in the region fell victim of some form of cyber attack in 2012 and the theft of confidential information reportedly costs banks in Latin America over $93 billion a year.
In Colombia, six million people reportedly fall victim to cyber crimes every year. Government websites have also been targeted, with the hacker group Anonymous attacking the former intelligence agency’s website in 2011 along with President Juan Manuel Santos’ Facebook page and ex-President Alvaro Uribe’s Twitter account.
In an effort to crack down on cyber crime in the region, Microsoft announced the creation of an anti-cyber crime office in Colombia in 2013 aimed at combating online criminal networks. Governments throughout the region have taken steps to address this issue, with Peru updating its criminal code to reflect cyber threats and several countries developing specialized police units.
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However, as demonstrated by this most recent case, which Colombian police said employed a new method to access bank accounts, the authorities face a stiff challenge in tackling cyber crime, as it is rapidly evolving, with new criminal networks and new techniques springing up constantly.