Police hold 11 over ransomware scam 'affecting thousands'

Europol cyber crime team
Image caption Thousands of machines had been infected, Europol said

A complex cybercrime network spreading ransomware designed to extort money has been shut down, police have said.

Spanish authorities, working with the European Union's law enforcement agency, Europol, arrested 11 people, from Russia, Georgia and Ukraine.

Software planted on targeted machines accused the user of having viewed illegal content, such as images showing child sex abuse, Europol said.

It then told the user to pay a "fine" before continuing to use the machine.

A Europol statement said: "By dressing the ransomware up to look as if it comes from a law enforcement agency, cybercriminals convince the victim to pay the 'fine' of 100 euros [$130; £85] through two types of payment gateways - virtual and anonymous - as a penalty for the alleged offence.

"The criminals then go on to steal data and information from the victim's computer.

"Since the virus was detected in May 2011, there have been more than 1,200 reported cases just in Spain, and the number of victims could be much higher."

'One million euros'

Investigators from Europol's European Cybercrime Centre - which launched last month - said the network had infected "tens of thousands" of computers worldwide.

Estimated profits had been in the range of one million euros per year, the statement said. And the virus had been first discovered in May 2011.

The gang had been receiving the money in a variety of ways - including using virtual currency such as Bitcoin, Europol said.

They were also alleged to have used cash machines in Spain to withdraw money with compromised credit cards - one of which had been used to take out 26,000 euros prior to the suspects' arrest.

Europol believe the head of the operation was a 27-year-old Russian man who had been in charge of the "creation, development and international distribution of the various versions of the malware".

"He was arrested in the United Arab Emirates and is awaiting extradition to Spain," the statement said.

Six Russians, two Ukrainians and two Georgians were also arrested.

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