Eight British men have been arrested for hacking the phones of American celebrities.
The men, aged between 18 and 26, were arrested by several police forces across the country in England and Scotland.
The National Criminal Agency (NCA) said the suspects were said to have targeted sports stars, musicians and influencers in the “SIM transfer” attacks, which they saw controlling the victims’ phones.
The technique allows them to steal money, cryptocurrency, personal information and contact details, as well as access social media accounts and send messages pretending to be victims.
The hackers were identified by NCA cybercrime officers who work with agents from the U.S. Secret Service, Homeland Security Investigations, the FBI and the Santa Clara California District Attorney’s Office.
UK and US investigators said the victims were targeted, as far as possible, before the perpetrators caused damage.
SIM transfer is the act of taking someone else’s phone and then transferring the phone number to another device by disabling the victim’s SIM card.
This is often aided by “corrupt people” from mobile phone service providers, who are relocating on their behalf, the NCA said.
Once the phone number is under the control of the hacker, applications and services can use the “Change Password” function, which sends reset codes via text message or to a newly compromised email account, helping to reset passwords.
The victim loses access to those services and the hacker can control contacts, banking applications and social media.
Paul Greyfield, chief operating officer of the NCA’s national cybercrime unit, said: “SIM relocation requires a significant network of cybercriminals, each of whom commits a variety of crimes to achieve the desired result.
“This network targeted numerous victims in the United States and invariably attacked those they believed were lucrative targets such as famous sports stars and musicians.
“In this case, the detainees are being charged with crimes under the Computer Misuse Act, fraud and money laundering, as well as prosecution in the United States.”
He added: “Cybercrime is not controlled by borders, and our efforts to deal with it are a reflection of this.