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Eight Brits arrested over SIM swapping attacks on US celebs

International effort between UK and US law enforcement agencies takes down network of English and Scottish cyber criminals

A SIM card on top of a mobile

Eight Brits have been arrested as part of an investigation into a series of 'SIM swapping' attacks across the US. 

The men, aged between 18 and 26, are from England and Scotland and their arrests were part of an international effort with the National Crime Agency (NCA), the US Secret Service, Homeland Security, the FBI and the Santa Clara California District Attorney's Office.

The perpetrators are said to have illegally gained access to mobile phones belonging to US celebrities in order to steal large sums of money, either from their bank accounts or Bitcoin wallets, according to the NCA.

"This network targeted a large number of victims in the US and regularly attacked those they believed would be lucrative targets, such as famous sports stars and musicians," said NCA's head of operations Paul Creffield. "In this case, those arrested face prosecution for offences under the Computer Misuse Act, as well as fraud and money laundering as well as extradition to the USA for prosecution." 

The criminals are accused of using a hack called 'SIM swapping' whereby they take over a victims phone number by deactivating the SIM and porting the allocated number over to a new one. This is often achieved by tricking mobile providers to swap the SIMs themselves, either using an insider or social engineering techniques.

Once they have control of the phone number, they use it to change the passwords on various apps and access contacts, emails and even bank details. 

In the summer, a number of celebrities, such as Elon Musk and Barack Obama, had their Twitter accounts hacked via the same methods. Instagram, Twitter and a number of other social media platforms recently announced that they had disabled hundreds of accounts that were stolen through SIM swapping, citing the 'OGUsers' forum as the culprit for harvesting the usernames.  

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