International sting takes down online marketplace of stolen identities | Data and computer security

A criminal online marketplace selling millions of stolen identities for as little as 56p has been taken down in an international crackdown.

The sting, led by the FBI and Dutch police with the involvement of law enforcement agencies across 18 countries, including the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA), took Genesis Market offline on Tuesday evening.

Users trying to access the site now see a page with the FBI investigation name “Operation Cookie Monster”.

The marketplace had 80m sets of personal credentials available for sale, covering 2 million people.

Online banking, Facebook, Amazon, PayPal and Netflix account information were up for sale alongside so-called digital fingerprints containing data from the victims’ devices. This enabled criminals to bypass online security checks by pretending to be the victim.

The NCA carried out a series of raids on Tuesday and arrested 19 suspected users of the site, while globally about 120 people were arrested and more than 200 searches carried out.

The NCA estimates there were hundreds of users of the site in the UK, and that tens of thousands of British victims have been targeted.

Will Lyne, the head of cyberintelligence for the NCA, said: “Genesis Market is one of the top criminal access marketplaces anywhere in the world. Genesis Market is an enormous enabler of fraud and a range of other criminal activity online by facilitating that initial access to victims, which is a critical part of the business model in a whole range of nefarious activity.”

The marketplace could be found using normal internet search engines, as well as on the dark web, and users were offered step-by-step guides on how to buy stolen details as well as how to use them for fraud.

Prices started from 70 US cents (56p) and went up to several hundreds of dollars, depending on the type of information available.

Rob Jones, the director general of the National Economic Crime Centre, said it was “very, very easy” for anyone to access Genesis Market to commit crime.

“This is the problem for us in the online world: you don’t need to know a criminal to start,” he said. “So you can completely self-start and go looking for this and get everything you need to perpetrate a crime.

“And so that is why this is so damaging. You don’t have to go and meet somebody, you don’t have to go into a shadowy forum; you can get into it, pay your money, and then you’ve got the tools to commit a crime. And that’s why it is so damaging, and it is very, very easy.”

Businesses as well as individuals had their information sold on Genesis Market, which facilitated fraud, ransomware attacks (where hackers block access to data and demand payment to release it) sim-swapping (where mobile phone numbers are hijacked) and the theft of source code from companies.

NCA investigators have already set up spoof distributed denial-of-service sites, which bring down servers by flooding them with requests, to harvest the details of criminals, and may use similar tactics when it comes to fraud sites.

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