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Vietnam police bust criminal ring selling smartphone spyware

Sunday, January 19, 2020, 19:00 GMT+7
Vietnam police bust criminal ring selling smartphone spyware
Tran Ngoc Duc, leader of a spyware crime ring in Vietnam, is pictured at a police station in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong in this provided photo.

Police in Vietnam have busted a ring of criminals who sell smartphone spyware capable of stealing login credentials of banking, email, and social media accounts on target devices where it is deployed.

The cybersecurity and high-tech crimes prevention unit under the Vietnamese Ministry of Public Security on Saturday said that it had worked in coordination with police officers in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong to bust the crime ring, having operated in Ho Chi Minh City, Lam Dong, and the northern province of Son La.

The ring leader, 30-year-old Tran Ngoc Duc, was arrested on the same day.

Officers also searched Duc’s residence in Da Lat City, the capital of Lam Dong, and seized seven bank cards, one laptop, six mobile phones, one motorbike, and one car.

At the police station, Duc confessed to being a dealer for two foreign websites http://www.cell-phones-tracker.com/ and https://tispy.net/, which sell smartphone spyware.

Duc would act as a middleman to sell the information-gathering software to buyers in Vietnam.

The spyware can be deployed into target devices to steal login credentials of banking, email and social media accounts.

Internet banking transactions and phone calls made on the device can also be secretly monitored and recorded without its owner’s knowledge.

All illegally gathered data is transferred to and stored in a foreign-based server.

Items seized from the residence of spyware crime ring leader Tran Ngoc Duc in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong are seen in this provided photo.

Items seized from the residence of spyware crime kingpin Tran Ngoc Duc in the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong are seen in this provided photo.

By the time of his arrest, Duc had sold the spyware to over 1,200 customers.

He also ran a Facebook page with over 4,600 ‘likes’ and 5,350 ‘followers’ and a YouTube channel that had garnered more than 488,000 views from 14 videos as of Saturday to advertise the software.

The ministry’s cybersecurity unit has advised smartphone users to run a check on applications installed on their device when signs such as overheating, abnormal data usage, and short battery life are observed.

A device that automatically reboots or switches on its GPS and Wi-Fi connection should also be suspected.

In such cases, it is advisable that the user seek support from a trusted mobile phone service center.

The selling, buying, or installing of spyware on another person’s electronic device is punishable by 7-12 years behind bars and a fine of up to VND50 million (US$2,100) in Vietnam, according to the country’s Penal Code.

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