One common scamming trend over the years has been to call people claiming to be from a famous company like Microsoft in order to gain remote access to their computer and extort cash ranging from a few to hundreds of dollars.
They do this by convincing users of malware or something more serious existing on their system which needs to be removed. Many such scammers operate from call centers located in other countries far away making it difficult for law enforcement agencies to crack in on them.
However, in the latest, we’ve seen a United Kingdom-based vigilante hacker taking action giving us great insight into how these tech support scammers and their infrastructure functions.
The hacker who goes by the name of Jim Browning shared a series of videos on his YouTube channel that details his exploits and how the whole hack worked. Additionally, BBC Panorama and another YouTuber named Karl Rock has also released a report coordinating with Browning.
Firstly, he traced these fake tech support scammers (call agents) to be from call centers in India and then went on a rather daring way to attack them. He did so by allowing them to establish a remote connection to his own computer giving them the view that they had conned him.
However, instead, he used that very established connection to attack the scammers back, something they would have not imagined. Although we don’t know the technical specifics of how he accomplished this reverse attack vector, we do know that it helped him gain access to CCTV cameras located in the vicinity of the call center based in Kolkata along with records of almost 70,000 calls.
The footage from the hacked CCTVs showed the entire routine of the staff operating there with workers hanging around and sitting on their workspaces just like you would find in any normal workplace. The conversations of workers trying to convince potential victims can also be heard.
In fact, a quote of Steve Jobs can be found muralled on a wall as shown in the image below, quite ironic considering the nature of their work. What’s even more surprising is that this is not some slum out of which they are operating, the building as seen from outside CCTV footage is well furnished and appears to host a modern looking office.
The image below is taken from a drone flown by Karl Rock. This is the ‘Sonit Tower‘ building where the entire tech support scam call center was operating from.
An interesting thing here to note is that despite all the evidence gathered, Browning’s work here would not be legally compliant considering he took the law into his own hand. Someone who does so can thereby be prosecuted and hence this may be one reason that the vigilante does not reveal his real identity.
Instead, law enforcement agencies recommend a more coordinated approach such as when we saw Avast team up with French authorities back in September 2019 to take down the Retadup botnet. Nonetheless, the entire topic of hacking back is a hotly contested one and hence we may see changes in the legislation governing it in the future.
However, the good news is that this particular scam call center has been raided by police and its owner Amit Chauhan has been arrested as well. More on his arrested is available in the video shared by Karl Rock.
For users to avoid being victims of such scammers, it is common sense that can prove to be the most effective here. Under no circumstances do well-reputed companies demand payments and access to one’s computer in a way that would place user security at risk.
Therefore, one should remain vigilant and in the case that you actually do need any help cleaning up your computer, visiting an authorized service agent of either the company itself or any third party service is preferable rather than trusting a random stranger behind a phone call.
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