International police take down ‘FluBot’ phone scam


THE HAGUE – An international police operation has stopped a mobile phone scam bug dubbed FluBot that spread “like wildfire” via text messages, the European Union’s police agency said on Wednesday (June 1).

Hackers would steal bank and other secure details from infected Android phones using the bug, which would then send text messages to other phones in the user’s contact list and pass on the malware like a flu virus.

Dutch police in May disrupted the malware’s infrastructure following an investigation by 11 countries including the United States, Australia and several European nations, Europol said.

The FluBot scam was among “the fastest-spreading mobile malware to date”, it said in a statement.

“This Android malware has been spreading aggressively through SMS, stealing passwords, online banking details and other sensitive information from infected smartphones across the world.”

Police were still trying to identify the culprits behind the scam, the statement said.

Europol did not reveal how it took down the malware, but said it did not involve removing any physical infrastructure.

“The Dutch police found another way to disrupt the criminal activity,” a Europol spokeswoman told AFP.

FluBot was first identified in December 2020 and quickly spread the following year, compromising a “huge number of devices worldwide” with major incidents in Spain and Finland, Europol said.

Victims using phones with Google’s Android operating system would receive a text message asking them to click on a link and install an app to track a package delivery or listen to a fake voicemail, Europol said.

Hackers would then use the access to steal banking or cryptocurrency account details.

“This strain of malware was able to spread like wildfire due to its ability to access an infected smartphone’s contacts,” the statement added.

“Messages containing links to the FluBot malware were then sent to these numbers, helping spread the malware ever further. This FluBot infrastructure is now under the control of law enforcement, putting a stop to the destructive spiral.”

The countries involved in carrying out the investigation were Australia, Belgium, Finland, Hungary, Ireland, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the United States, coordinated by Europol’s cybercrime centre. The United States Secret Service was also involved.

-Agence France-Presse





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