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Suspected Phishing Email Fraudster Arrested in Nigeria

The suspected fraudster fled Nigeria in 2021 when law enforcement initially tried to apprehend him.

 

A Nigerian man has been arrested by Interpol and African cops on suspicion of running a multi-continent cybercrime network that specialised in sending phishing emails to businesses. His alleged operation was behind so-called business email compromise (BEC), a combination of fraud and social engineering in which employees at targeted firms are duped into doing things like wiring money to scammers or sending sensitive information abroad. 

This is done by impersonating executives or suppliers and sending messages with instructions on where to deliver payments or data, often by getting into an employee's work email account. The 37-year-arrest old's is part of a year-long counter-BEC operation code-named Operation Delilah, which began with intelligence from cybersecurity firms Group-IB and Palo Alto Networks Unit 42, and Trend Micro. 

According to the groups involved, Op Delilah, which began in May 2021, is another success story from Interpol's Cyber Fusion Center, a public-private partnership between law enforcement and industry experts based in Singapore. The arrest, however, comes after the FBI issued a strong warning about BEC earlier this month, claiming that it is still the most costly threat to businesses throughout the world. Between June 2016 and December 2022, email scams cost businesses and people at least $43.3 billion. 

The FBI stated that BEC continues to develop and change, targeting small local companies to larger enterprises, and personal transactions, adding that it monitored a 65 per cent increase in identified global exposed losses, with victims in 177 countries, between July 2019 and December 2021. When law enforcement attempted to catch the suspected fraudster in this case, he fled Nigeria in 2021. He attempted to return to Nigeria in March 2022 but was recognised and detained as a result of the intelligence-gathering relationship. The intelligence was passed on to Nigerian police by Interpol's African Joint Operation against Cybercrime (AFJOC), which was assisted by law enforcement from Australia, Canada, and the United States. Nigerian cops eventually apprehended the man at Lagos' Murtala Mohammed International Airport. Delilah is the third in a series of law-enforcement actions that have resulted in the identification and arrest of suspected gang members. 

"The arrest of this alleged prominent cybercriminal in Nigeria is testament to the perseverance of our international coalition of law enforcement and Interpol's private sector partners in combating cybercrime," Garba Baba Umar, assistant inspector general of the Nigeria Police Force, said in a statement this week. 

The security companies involved in the operation closely monitored the alleged Nigerian BEC crew under the name SilverTerrier, or TMT, and Delilah is the third in a series of law-enforcement actions that have resulted in the identification and arrest of these suspected gang members. Delilah was preceded by the Interpol-led Falcon I and Falcon II operations, which took place in 2020 and 2021 and resulted in the arrest of 14 members of the criminal gang. 

The earlier operations, as well as the most recent one, were assisted by Unit 42 and Group-IB, among other security analysts. TMT has been tracked by Group-IB since 2019. We're warned that by 2020, the criminals would have infiltrated more than 500,000 businesses in 150 nations. One of the defendants seized in Nigeria during Falcon II had more than 50,000 possible victim domain credentials on his laptop, according to Interpol. 

Meanwhile, Unit 42 researchers allege that the 37-year-old Nigerian detained as part of Delilah has been a criminal since 2015. 

The security analysts at Palo Alto Networks wrote in a blog, "We have identified over 240 domains that were registered using this actor's aliases. Of that number, over 50 were used to provide command and control for malware. Most notably, this actor falsely provided a street address in New York city associated with a major financial institution when registering his malicious domains." 

They discovered that he has a stated affinity for ISRStealer, Pony, and LokiBot malware. He also prefers enormous gold, blingy jewellery, according to a social media snapshot of the alleged perp on the Unit 42 blog. According to the security researchers, the suspect is well-connected with other BEC criminals and also appears to share social media contacts with a trio detained in 2021 as part of Falcon II.
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