US authorities have issued arrest warrants for two Romanian nationals, for allegedly hacking into 123 police computers linked to CCTV cameras, in Washington DC.
The hack came at a hugely sensitive time for the United States, as the compromise of the surveillance cameras happened just days before President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
If proven, this will not be the first time that criminal gangs have targetted and utilised CCTV systems for ransomware or DDoS attacks.
The two people charged are being held in Romania, having been arrested at Bucharest Otopeni airport on 15 December.
According to the US statement, Mihai Alexandru Isvanca, 25 is currently in custody in Romania, whereas and Eveline Cismaru, 28, is currently under house arrest pending further legal proceedings.
“Both defendants are charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit various forms of computer fraud,” said the US Department of Justice (DoJ).
The maximum penalty for a conspiracy to commit wire fraud is 20 years in prison.
The US Secret Service was apparently notified on 12 January 2017 that a number of Metropolitan Police Department surveillance cameras had been compromised.
Secret Service agents immediately investigated and found that the MPD surveillance camera computers were compromised between 9 and 12 January, 2017, with “cerber” and “dharma” ransomware variants being found on the computers.
“Other evidence in the investigation revealed a scheme to distribute ransomware by email to at least 179,000 email addresses,” said the DoJ.
The DoJ also said that Isvanca and Cismaru participated in the ransomware scheme using the compromised MPD surveillance camera computers, along with other people.
The investigation has also identified certain victims who had received the ransomware or whose servers had been accessed during the scheme.
“This case was of the highest priority due to its impact on the Secret Service’s protective mission and its potential effect on the security plan for the 2017 Presidential Inauguration,” said the DoJ. “In partnership with MPD’s Chief Technology Office, the Secret Service and MPD quickly ensured that the surveillance camera system was secure and operational prior to the Inauguration and continued to investigate the criminal offences charged.”
The US Secret Service investigation was also apparently helped by the UK’s National Crime Agency and Metropolitan Police, as well as the Netherland’s National High Tech Crimes Unit and the Romanian National Police and the FBI.
This is not the first time that CCTV systems have been compromised by criminal gangs.
In 2016 researchers at security firm Sucuri uncovered an unusual botnet made up entirely of Internet-connected CCTV cameras.
That incident recalled a similar case in 2015 when a security firm found a botnet made up of 900 CCTV cameras was launching an attack on an unnamed cloud services provider.
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