One of the gang accused with involvement in the novel attempted raid on Barclays bank using a remotely-controlled KVM (keyboard-video-mouse) device and 3G router has been described by police as being a "Mr Big" of UK cybercrime.
Although only revealed last week, the attack said to have stolen £1.3 million ($2 million) from the Barclays branch in Swiss Cottage occurred in April, coordinated from a Marylebone 'control room' by a gang that allegedly included the unnamed 47 year-old man.
The attack was carried out using a bogus repairman who planted the KVM device on a PC inside the bank's network, allowing money to be transferred remotely. The bank traced a large amount of the money on the same day by locating the mule accounts into which it had been moved.
Four of the eight accused of involvement - Michael Victor Harper (26), Darius Bolder (34), Tony Colston-Hayter (47), and Lewis James Murphy (29) - have been charged with a variety of offences while a further four have been bailed pending further enquiries, police said.
'All criminal networks have a head and we very much believe we have now apprehended our Mr Big as part of this operation," said Detective Superintendent Terry Wilson of the Metropolitan Police.
"We believe this has put a major dent in this network's ability to commit cyber-crime in this country. We believe this was a top-tier criminal network," he said.
Police haven't yet explained the extent of the conspiracy but haven't denied that it is probably connected to an identical attack on the Surrey Quays branch of Santander bank on 12 September, only days before the Barclays attack was revealed. In that incident, police arrested a dozen men before any money was stolen, which on its own suggests prior knowledge.
"We've actually been quite astounded by what we've come across, which effectively is a cybercrime control room in Seymour Street in Marylebone," said Wilson of the Barclays incident.
"We have recovered an overwhelming amount of evidence, so much so that we've had to draft in further resources. We weren't expecting to find what we did find there."
Finds from the addresses of some of the accused included cash, jewellery, drugs and, revealingly, the details of thousands of credit cards.
"Perhaps the cops have been on the trail of these guys for a while, managed to nab the Santander suspects and have only now announced the Barclays incident as they rounded up others suspected of being involved in KVM bank account heists," speculated independent security expert, Graham Cluley.
More likely, this was a method used by one gang or a group of connected gangs that had spotted a weakness in physical security; get behind the bank's front door and they could bypass other forms of digital security with ease. "I think it's wrong to assume that this is a growing trend," said Cluley.
The KVM and wireless router method is unheard of in the UK although accessing internal computers inside a bank branch was successfully exploited in an attack on a South Africa bank at New Year 2012. On that occasion, the hackers routed the $5.2 million theft to accounts from which it was withdrawn via ATMs within hours. Timed to happen over a local holiday, bank staff were not on hand to notice that something was awry.