Hacker tried to blackmail Apple by threatening deletion of 319 million accounts

A cyber criminal who tried to blackmail Apple by claiming that he had access to a huge cache of iCloud and other Apple accounts has been sentenced following an investigation conducted by the National Crime Agency (NCA). Kerem Albayrak, 22, from North London, demanded Apple give him $75,000 in cryptocurrency or a thousand $100 iTunes gift cards in return for deleting his database.

Albayrak threatened that he would factory reset 319 million iCloud accounts and dump his databases online if his demands were not met. On 12 March 2017, he e-mailed Apple Security claiming to have iCloud account details which he planned to sell online on behalf of his “Internet buddies”.

A week later, Albayrak filmed himself accessing two apparently random iCloud accounts. He posted the video on YouTube and sent the link to Apple Security, as well as multiple media outlets. Two days later the demand increased to $100,000 and a threat to factory reset every iCloud account in his possession.

Apple contacted law enforcement in the UK and the US and the NCA led the UK side of the investigation.

On 28 March 2017, officers from the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit arrested Albayrak at his home address in North London. Digital devices were seized including his phone, computers and hard drive.

NCA investigators found phone records showing Albayrak was the spokesperson for a hacker group calling themselves the ‘Turkish Crime Family’. He bragged to the group: “The attack will happen 99.9%. Even if it doesn’t, you’re still going to get a lot of media attention.”

No signs of network compromise

The NCA investigation also confirmed the findings of Apple that there were no signs of a network compromise. The data Albayrak claimed to have was actually from previously compromised third party services which were mostly inactive. When asked about some of his activities, Albayrak told NCA investigators: “Once you get sucked into it [cyber crime], it just escalates and it makes it interesting when it’s illegal.”

The fame-hungry cyber criminal went on to say: “When you have power on the Internet it’s like fame and everyone respects you. Everyone is chasing that right now.”

On 2 December this year, Albayrak pleaded guilty to one count of blackmail having already admitted to two counts of unauthorised acts with intent to impair the operation of or prevent/hinder access to a computer. He was sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on Friday 20 December and given a two-year suspended jail term, 300 hours of unpaid work and a six-month electronic curfew.

Anna Smith, a senior investigative officer for the NCA, said: “Albayrak wrongly believed he could escape justice after hacking into two accounts and attempting to blackmail a large multi-national corporation. During the investigation, it became clear that he was seeking fame and fortune, but cyber crime doesn’t pay. The NCA is fully committed to bringing cyber criminals to justice. It’s imperative that the victims of cyber crime report such compromises as soon as possible and retain all evidence.”

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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