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Largest-ever smartphone data theft case affects 90,000 users

Publication Date : 01-11-2012

 

Recruiting customers for a dating website may have been the motive behind the nation's largest-ever case of smartphone data theft, according to police sources.

Among five people arrested for allegedly infecting at least 90,000 smartphones with an information-stealing virus, two of the suspects are thought to have developed the spyware at the request of the other three, a senior officer of the Metropolitan Police Department said.

After users unwittingly downloaded the virus, hidden inside free smartphone applications, it would plunder their address books for the benefit of the three, who hoped to use the data to induce people to use their company's services including a dating website, police sources said.

According to the MPD, the two are Shigeto Kitagawa, 30, of Minato Ward, Tokyo, the president of an information technology firm; and Yoshinori Ito, 34, of Mitaka, western Tokyo, who operates another IT-related firm.

The other three were all linked to the defunct IT-related firm Admac. Hirokatsu Okuno, 36, of Minato Ward, was the chairman. Yuri Tamai, 28, of Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, was the president. Yuji Hamamura, 28, also of Shibuya Ward, was an employee.

As all five allegedly participated in developing illegal applications through work at their respective firms, the MPD is investigating the case as one organized crime.

As about 11.83 million pieces of personal information were stolen from at least 90,000 people, this is considered the largest information theft case to involve smartphones. The data were stored on a server in Tokyo outside the firm.

According to a senior MPD officer, Hamamura proposed in late December the idea of inducing smartphone users to download applications including a virus to steal information from their address books. Following approval from Okuno and Tamai, the firm in Minato Ward decided to develop the spyware applications.

Because the firm could not make such applications on its own, it asked Ito to develop some with Kitagawa. In early February, Ito allegedly sold a USB thumb drive containing the applications for about 500,000 yen.

Admac was established in February 2010 and ran dating and fortune-telling websites. The MPD seized computers from the firm in May and analyzed them to find evidence of stolen information being used to solicit for their websites.

Okuno and other suspects released about 50 applications for free through an official online store for smartphones that use Android, an operating system developed by Google Inc., from early February to mid-April. To entice people to download them, the applications promised footage of popular video games.

Okuno reportedly declined to admit to or deny the allegation and Tamai denied it, while the other three suspects confessed to the charge.

Computers disposed of

Hamamura destroyed and disposed of some computers at the firm around April 20 when many people started to post messages on the social media website Twitter that applications existed for stealing information from smartphones, it was learned Wednesday. The MPD assumes Hamamura was trying to destroy evidence regarding the applications that included a virus.

According to a senior MPD officer, some newspaper and TV shows reported on the suspected applications in mid-April and Hamamura, who had proposed the idea of stealing such information as telephone numbers and mail addresses by providing applications containing a virus, then tried to get rid of the computers. He also reportedly shredded many documents.

Since Hamamura admitted his alleged involvement in the information theft, the MPD plans to question him about how and why he disposed of the computers.

 

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