Two people have been arrested in Nigeria and Malta as US authorities launched a crackdown on a prolific global cybercrime network known for stealing and selling data from Americans and small businesses, the US Justice Department said Friday.
FBI agents in Boston seized computer servers used by the group as part of the crackdown, the Justice Department said.
The crime group allegedly sold a popular hacking tool known as Warzone RAT for less than $200, which made it easier for people all over the world to steal personal and financial data that could be sold on the dark web. At least 7,000 customers have bought the malicious software, and foreign governments have also used it in their own hacking operations, Brett Leatherman, the FBI’s acting deputy assistant director of cyber operations, told CNN. He declined to identify the governments.
“It doesn’t eradicate [the hacking tool] from the internet,” Leatherman told CNN. “It does significantly degrade anybody’s ability to get it and use it right now.”
The announcement is another effort by US law enforcement to put a dent in the multibillion-dollar business of cybercrime that affects Americans of all ages and backgrounds.
Cybercriminals extorted a record $1.1 billion in ransom payments from victim organizations around the world last year despite US government efforts to cut off their money flows, the crypto-tracking firm Chainalysis estimated in a report released this week.
As part of the crackdown announced Friday, authorities in Malta arrested 27-year-old Daniel Meli at the request of the Justice Department, the department said. Meli is accused of being active on cybercriminal forums since he was a teenager and of selling multiple hacking tools, including Warzone RAT. In 2022, Meli sold one of those tools to an undercover FBI employee for $180 in cryptocurrency as the bureau built a case against Meli, according to an indictment unsealed in the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
Joseph Giglio, a Malta-based lawyer that local media reports identified as Meli’s lawyer, did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Nigerian authorities have also arrested a 31-year-old man, Prince Onyeoziri Odinakachi, whom the Justice Department accused of providing “customer support” for people who bought the Warzone RAT hacking tool. CNN could not identify a lawyer representing Odinakachi.
The US is seeking the extradition of Meli and Odinakachi.
The crackdown is a blow to the criminal group but not necessarily a death knell.
“Our goal is to get to the dismantlement of the criminal enterprise,” Leatherman said. “But we also want to stop the attacks on US and international victims.”