Eight British men have been arrested for allegedly hacking the phones of US celebrities.
The men, all aged between 18 and 26, were arrested in England and Scotland by a number of police forces across the country.
The suspects are alleged to have targeted sports stars, musicians and influencers in the “sim swapping” attacks, which saw them take control of their victim’s phones, according to the National Crime Agency (NCA).
The technique would have meant they could steal money, cryptocurrency, personal information and contact details, as well as access social media accounts and send messages pretending to be their victim.
The alleged hackers were identified by NCA cyber crime officers, working with agents from the US Secret Service, Homeland Security Investigations, the FBI and the Santa Clara California District Attorney’s Office.
UK and US investigators told the victims when they had been targeted, and where possible, before the criminals could cause damage.
Sim swapping is the process of taking over someone else’s phone by deactivating the victim’s sim card, and then transferring the phone number to another device.
More from UK
COVID-19: Government failed to contact 375,000 to tell them to shield, watchdog finds
COVID news live – latest updates: Minister faces questions on £1,750 hotel quarantine fee and 10-year jail term for lying at border
Grenfell legacy: £5bn bailout for leaseholders trapped by unsafe cladding is ‘too little, too late’, says Labour
COVID-19: Lack of PPE and moving patients out of hospitals ‘contributed significantly’ to high death rates in care homes
COVID-19: Another 1,052 UK deaths reported as 12.6 million receive first vaccine jab
COVID-19: Scientists label mutation found in Bristol as ‘variant of concern’
It is often helped by “corrupt insiders” at mobile phone service providers, who perform the swap on their behalf, according to the NCA.
Once the hacker has control of the phone number, the “change password” function can be used on apps and services, which sends out reset codes via text message or to the newly-compromised email account, enabling passwords to be reset.
Hackers try to poison Florida town by changing chemical levels at water treatment plant
It means the victim loses access to those services, and the hacker can control contacts, banking apps and social media.
Paul Creffield, head of operations in the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit, said: “Sim swapping requires significant organisation by a network of cyber criminals, who each commit various types of criminality to achieve the desired outcome.
“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.
“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.”
He added: “Cyber criminality is not restricted by borders and our efforts to tackle it reflect that. This investigation is the result of successful collaboration with international partners in the US and Europol, as well as our law enforcement colleagues here in the UK.”