The mastermind behind a gang of crooks who robbed cash machines of more than £1 billion has been arrested in Spain.
Named only as Denis K, the criminal boss orchestrated hacks on bank cash machines that made them dispense money at a set time to waiting thieves.
The gang had targeted more than 100 banks and financial institutions since 2013, netting as much as £10 million at a time.
The crooks developed sophisticated software that could secretly take over the cash machines.
The malware code was sent by email to unsuspecting bank workers and secretly loaded on to their networks when they clicked to open the message.
Denis K and three associates then took remote control of the networks to access databases and bypass security systems, so they could operate the cash machines.
After switching the stolen money in to cryptocurrencies, the gang lived a luxury lifestyle, buying large homes, expensive cars and other big-ticket items.
Much was converted into the digital currency bitcoin. Denis K reportedly had access to 15,000 bitcoins worth £85 million at the time of his arrest. The current exchange rate values a bitcoin at $5,650.
Many of the cash machine hacks were in Russia, where Denis K, a Ukrainian, worked with the Russian mafia for two years. Since 2015, he had switched allegiance to criminal gangs in the Eastern European country of Moldova.
The Russian Interior Ministry said the cyberattacks impacted all the country’s financial systems. Besides the hacks, once inside a bank’s computer system, the gang hijacked accounts so they could move money around for withdrawal by ‘mules’.
Police from Spain, Belorussia, Taiwan and Romania took part in the covert operation with Europol and the FBI.
Spanish police are celebrating the capture of the gang after the multinational law enforcement operation. Denis K was arrested in the resort of Alicante.
“The head has been cut off,” said Carlos Yuste, the Spanish police chief heading the investigation. “I’m sure there are other operations like this, but not many.
“The gang members didn’t know each other and made contact through Internet chat rooms and it’s unlikely they can continue after the mastermind was captured.”