UFED Extracts Evidence for Giant Global Internet 'Sextortion' Network

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Interpol Digital Crime Center (IDCC), Singapore

UFED Extracts Evidence for Giant Global Internet 'Sextortion' Network

Technologically-advanced UFED deployed in Operation Strikeback to provide court evidence for prosecution of 58 suspects in criminal networks behind 'sexploitation' cases 


During the summer of 2013, a 17-year old victim of an online blackmail attempt, died after jumping off the Fourth Road Bridge near Edinburgh. The Scottish teenager became embroiled in a 'sextortion' scam after having online conversations with a person he believed to be a girl of his own age. The extortionist recorded explicit footage of the victim and then blackmailed him for money.

'Sexploitation' online is on the rise and has coincided with the explosive popularity of social media and the age of a camera on every phone. Teenagers and young children are especially vulnerable to acts of online extortion given the sexually curious stage of their life.

In the first operation of its kind, on November 2013  INTERPOL Digital Crime Centre (IDCC) joined forces with law enforcement agencies from the affected countries, including the Hong Kong Police Force, Singapore Police Force and the Philippines National Police (PNP) Anti-Cybercrime Group., This special operation was codenamed Operation Strikeback, and resulted in the arrest of 58 people in the Philippines for their involvement in a massive global Internet 'sextortion' network, of whom three men were linked to the group which harassed the 17-year old victim.

On April 2014, the PNP carried out a series of raids in the Philippines, resulting in the seizure of 250 electronic devices, including many mobile phones.


Retrieving Evidence for Prosecution

The perpetrators were using social networks and chatrooms to lure and then extort their victims. The extortionists were tracked down using evidence from computers combined with meticulous international intelligence gathering, all coordinated by INTERPOL. 

The PNP was backed up with extra equipment by INTERPOL who provided the UFED units. These units were supplemented by professional product training provided by INTERPOL and Cellebrite. Also contributing to bringing PNP forensic professionals up to par with the latest technologies and capabilities of mobile device forensics 

Once the cell phones of the perpetrators were seized, the UFED devices were distributed to the Anti-Cybercrime Group of PNP, to uncover evidentiary data related to the case that could be used for prosecution in court. 


Successful Operation

Using the UFED Series, investigators were able to extract, decode and analyze not only information from social media applications, but also other digital traces, such as call logs, text messages, pictures, media files, and e-mails. The UFED Series helped investigators discover communication between the criminals and their victims as well as operational data on how the criminals' schemes were set out, their means of communication, and the leading players in this scandalous operation.   

The UFED was the main tool used to extract and analyze mobile data for gathering evidence, and thus served as one of the main instruments used to provide evidence for the prosecution of the 58 'sextortion' criminals.

Levy Lozada, Chief of the Digital Forensic Laboratory, and part of the recently formed Anti-Cybercrime Group, commented on the UFED's central role in the investigation/ praises the UFED and describes it as "the primary tool used by PNP to perform extractions and analysis of data from mobile devices. We are very satisfied with the equipment since it's easy to use and effectively pulls out admissible evidence. Our digital forensic laboratories use it not only for cybercrime, but for other types of crimes where a mobile device may have been used to carry out illicit criminal activity."

“The success of Operation Strikeback was due to the close collaboration between the different law enforcement agencies involved around the world,” said Sanjay Virmani, Director of the IDCC.

“However, the arrests were just one part of the investigation. Equally as important is ensuring that evidence is properly recovered and accessed and the support and expertise provided by Cellebrite was an important factor in this part of the process,” added Mr Virmani.

The UFED product line is transforming the way law enforcement around the world, interrogate mobile data and Operation Strikeback is another success story that places the UFED at the forefront as the number one tool for fighting cybercrime and ‘traditional’ crime.