Police in the Chiba Prefectural zone of Japan have arrested nine people suspected of making nearly $4m by distributing malware that harvested mobile user's contact information and using it for a fake dating website.
The arrests came after a joint operation between the police and Symantec, and the security company reports that the possible ringleader of the group is Masaaki Kagawa, president of IT firm Koei Planning and a semi-professional poker player who has netted over $1.5m in winnings from tournament play over in the last six years.
Since 2007 he's competed in a variety of games on the international poker circuit in London, Las Vegas, Monte Carlo, and Australia, with some success and the occasional massive loss. If convicted, however, Kagawa won't be playing high-stakes poker for some time to come.
Kagawa and his associates are accused of using a wide variety of applications to spread the Android malware, Enesoluty, across third-party Android apps forums via 150 hosted domains. The malware harvested the email addresses of its victims, and it seems these were used to drive traffic to a phony dating website.
Those who signed up for the dating site would be bombarded by messages from "people" wanting to talk with them, at the price of conversation tokens. A few people with multiple personas would encourage ever-longer conversations with no chance of meeting a flesh-and-blood date.
"The mobile malware was just a step towards his real scheme which was to send out spam about his dating site and get people to sign up over there and not really get any service," Vikram Thakur, principal research manager at Symantec Security Response, told The Register.
"By getting signups is where he made his money, but that's not to say that he didn't also sell the contact information on to spammers and the like," Thakur said.
From the looks of some of the applications the malware distributors were pushing, they will have scooped the dumbest of users, so the email lists would have been perfect for psychics and pitchers of other such wondrous illogicalities.
One application promised to turn the screen of the smartphone into a solar cell that would charge up the handset, while another app let users jiggle the breasts of a cartoon figure. In all cases, the infected application asked for contact details, despite there being no logical need for such data.
"There's a sucker born every minute," the American scammer PT Barnam is reported to have said – and based on the gang's results he was right. These lamentable apps harvested 37 million email addresses from around 810,000 Android devices.
Researchers at Symantec started picking up infections from Enesoluty in September last year and began analyzing the code. Thakur said it became clear that the malware didn't come from one of the many automatic malware generating kits available online, but was being written specifically by a group of programmers to harvest contact details.
Further examination of the code showed details of where the purloined contact details were being routed through, and Symantec contacted the local police to see if the culprits could be caught. Thakur said the local police were "very switched-on" when it comes to this kind of crime. Maybe US investigators could get some tips from them. ®