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Unmasking the Rise of Crypto Scams: Cybercriminals Exploit YouTube Channels

Updated: Jan 4

In a concerning trend, researchers have uncovered a wave of cybercriminals seizing control of prominent YouTube channels to promote fraudulent cryptocurrency schemes, often featuring the likeness of Elon Musk and his company Tesla. The modus operandi involves "stream-jacking," where scammers rebroadcast authentic content alongside malicious QR codes or links in videos or comments, guiding unsuspecting users to cryptocurrency scam websites.

Crypto Scams

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Conducted by cybersecurity firm Bitdefender, the investigation reveals that phishing kits, employed to automate these attacks, were the primary weapon of choice for the scammers. The culprits remain elusive, shrouded in anonymity. The compromised YouTube channels, many featuring content related to Tesla, were either hijacked or stolen. Original videos were either made private or deleted, and channel descriptions were altered to mimic the official Tesla channel.

To infiltrate these channels, hackers employed phishing emails, enticing channel owners with collaboration opportunities, sponsorships, or counterfeit copyright notices from YouTube. Unbeknownst to the victims, opening a malicious file in the email unleashed the Redline Infostealer malware, collecting critical data, including session tokens and cookies, even if two-factor authentication was active.

YouTube, upon detecting suspicious activity, deleted most of the compromised channels. Unfortunately, this meant genuine channel owners faced substantial losses, including videos, playlists, views, subscribers, and potential monetization. Some affected channels boasted millions of subscribers and billions of total views.

Bitdefender observed that comment sections on the suspicious live streams were either disabled or restricted to subscribers with 10 or 15 years of tenure, hampering efforts by informed users to alert others to the scam.

The fraudulent links disseminated through compromised channels led to a common scam: duping individuals into sending cryptocurrency with the promise of doubling their investment. The researchers also stumbled upon videos featuring deepfakes of Elon Musk endorsing cryptocurrencies, impeccably crafted to deceive the average viewer.

Notably, a Russian Telegram channel allegedly peddling the phishing kit was identified, boasting a mere 11 subscribers as of July. Bitdefender's investigation unearthed a staggering 1,300 videos promoting crypto scams on nefarious websites, all likely stemming from the same phishing kit.

Adding another layer of complexity, all promoted scam websites were shielded by Cloudflare, making automated analysis more challenging. Bitdefender emphasizes that YouTube channels with substantial subscriber counts are prime targets for cybercriminals, who can monetize them by either extorting the legitimate owner or disseminating scams and malware to the audience.

It's crucial to note that this nefarious tactic extends beyond Elon Musk, as scammers also exploit figures like Charles Hoskinson, Michael Saylor, and the head of Ripple in their deceptive campaigns. As the battle against crypto scams intensifies, vigilance and awareness become paramount to safeguarding the online community.

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