Hack suspect caught after bitcoin-blackmail bid

Top News | Sum Lok-kei 9 Jan 2018

A 30-year-old suspected hacker believed to be involved in the blackmailing of two travel agencies has been arrested.

The two cyber hacks occurred last Monday and Tuesday when Goldjoy Holidays and Big Line Holiday said customer information was stolen from their databases.

They said a ransom of one bitcoin - equivalent to more than HK$120,000 - was demanded.

Superintendent Swalikh Mohammed of the Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau said a male suspect was arrested on Saturday night at his home in Cheung Chau.

Police seized two desktop computers, two laptops, one tablet and five mobile phones. Officers also searched the suspect's workshop in Kwun Tong.

Mohammed said the suspect, who works in the information technology industry, is still in custody.

"We believe his motive is money," Mohammed said. He refused to say how police tracked down the suspect. "The cyber world is not a lawless space where criminals can hide," he said.

"The majority of the laws applicable in the real world can also be applied on the internet. Blackmail is a serious offense - a person can be imprisoned for 14 years."

He said police have not ruled out making more arrests.

The seized computers will be searched to see if other companies had been targeted or if the suspect has any accomplices.

The number of agency customers affected is still being evaluated.

A Goldjoy Holidays spokesman said the company was pleased that a suspect had been apprehended so quickly.

After upgrading its cyber security, he said it is unlikely the company will be hacked again.

"We will monitor the system closely and report suspicious findings," he said.

Internet Society of Hong Kong convener Young Wo-sang said police may have tracked down the hacker by studying the affected computer systems.

"Police could have looked into the log files of the hack computers, which may contain traces such as IP address and the use of hacking tools," Young said.

He said police can also check for hacking software and sift through the suspect's browsing history.

If the two travel agencies use the same internet security service provider, the hacker could have even been an employee, Young added.

Another travel agency, Worldwide Package Travel Service, said it was also hacked last November.

The company said information on 200,000 customers was suspected to have been stolen, including their Hong Kong ID and credit card numbers, names and addresses.

The company refused to pay a seven-figure ransom and eventually unlocked its database with the help of police.


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