Cyber Crime

Authorities dismantle online piracy hackers network Sparks Group

A criminal network of copyright and infringing hackers called the Sparks Group has been dismantled by US authorities, Europol and Eurojust. The huge network stretched across 18 countries wherein, the hackers were allegedly involved in publishing digital content that was yet to be released.

Not only this, but they also violated copyright protection on the obtained Blu-ray discs, which was then replicated and uploaded to online servers, open for all to duplicate and distribute. 

Since 2016, the conniving network in question has been in violation of copyright and infringement rights and circulated hundreds of TV shows and movies prior to their release date. This ultimately resulted in production houses and studios losing millions of US dollars.

The widespread network elongated in 18 countries with sixty servers located around the globe including Asia, Europe, and North America.

According to Europol’s press release, all servers have been taken down in Canada, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, South Korea, the United Kingdom amongst others.



 

Nevertheless, the group did not go down without a fight. In many instances, the Sparks Group would defy claims by either misrepresenting or omitting information to wholesale distributors. They would impersonate and present themselves as Blu-ray retailers and also promised not to sell the content before the release date.

However, upon receiving the content, the hackers deployed special software to decrypt and crack copyright protection on the discs. Once successful they would publish the digital content in HD (high definition) which was then available on open servers to be copied, streamed on platforms, and also procured by torrent websites.

Nevertheless, the authorities involved in taking them down had extensive support from all the countries where the hackers’ network had infiltrated. One of the alleged hackers was arrested in Cyprus whilst another was caught in the US. Similar measures ensued in Italy, Romania, and Canada as well.



 

According to a press release from the DoJ, three individuals have been charged with copyright infringement conspiracy. This includes Umar Ahmad (39 – a/k/a “Artist,” from Norway), George Bridi (50) from the United Kingdom, and Jonatan Correa (36 – a/k/a “Raid,” a US citizen).

One of the Europol’s agents conducting forensic analysis on one of the computers used by the hackers (Image: Europol)

Regarding this, Europol states in the press release:

Europol enhanced the exchange of information through the participating countries and coordinated the action day with Eurojust which hosted yesterday’s a coordination centre, ensuring real-time coordination in the joint action of the national authorities in all the countries.

They further added:

An operational meeting at Europol and a coordination meeting at Eurojust were organized prior to the joint action day, facilitating the exchange of information between law enforcement and judicial authorities and setting a joint strategy between all the parties involved.

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