Police say 'sorry' for wrongful arrests for computer threats

October 22, 2012

By TATSUYA SUDO/ Staff Writer

Police have been forced to bow and apologize to four people for wrongfully arresting them after their computers were remotely accessed by a third party, who posted threats through them including mass murder in a school and on the streets of Osaka.

Tokyo police apologized Oct. 21 to a 28-year-old man in Fukuoka for wrongly arresting him over sending e-mails threatening attacks on a Tokyo kindergarten and other facilities.

Osaka prefectural police also apologized the same day to a 43-year-old man, an anime director, in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, whom they arrested over the threat of mass murder.

Mie police already apologized to a man in the prefecture on Oct. 19, and Kanagawa prefectural police and Yokohama prosecutors apologized to a university student in Tokyo on Oct. 20, over detaining them after threats had been posted through their PCs.

On Oct. 9, a Tokyo lawyer, who deals with cases of Internet-related problems, received an anonymous e-mail from a self-described hacker who claimed to have infected the computers with Trojan horse malware and sent the threats. The individual apologized to the individuals arrested for allegedly posting the threats.

Police believe from the information contained in the e-mail that it is genuine. They said they are launching full-scale investigations to find the actual perpetrator.

Experts say viruses that enable outsiders to remotely control computers are the source of most cases of infections, such as these recent highly publicized incidents.

An expert advised users to exercise caution, saying anyone could face such a situation if their computer was infected with a virus.

In April, a 28-year-old woman in Gunma Prefecture saw her computer operating without her control at home. Her computer screen changed in rapid succession and word-processing software was activated and the threat "You die" popped up on the display.

In a panic, the woman ran to another room to get her mother. Her mother pulled the plug, but the computer continued operating until the battery died.

“I felt like everything was seen by a thief who had broken into my computer,” the woman said.

Several days earlier, the woman had downloaded free video-processing software, which likely contained a virus.

770,000 virus species found a day

Symantec Corp., a U.S. computer security software firm, found around 403 million varieties of computer viruses across the globe last year.

The company said it believes some 70 percent of them had the ability of allowing outside control by a third party, meaning about 770,000 types of such viruses were being discovered each day.

“Viruses for outside control are now the most prevalent in the entire world, and everybody faces risks of infection,” said a Symantec official. “People should not turn a blind eye to the risks as being someone else's problem.”

Earlier, there had been no reports that such viruses were used to send malicious messages such as in the recent incidents. In most cases, the viruses have been used to steal confidential information on individuals and businesses, the Symantec official said.

“The situation is that currently infections are taking place without being detected and are spreading,” the official said.

Used as a “steppingstone” for crimes

Bank accounts for Internet banking are often targets of attacks from hackers.

In August last year, some 5 million yen ($63,000) in a mail-order company’s account at a Tokyo-based bank was fraudulently transferred to four other accounts. The crime was conducted using a man’s computer infected with a virus, which allowed a third party to manipulate it.

Tokyo police arrested another man of Chinese nationality for allegedly having fraudulently accessed the account through the other man’s computer.

An investigative source said there are many cases where computers owned by totally unrelated people were used as entryways to fraudulently transfer money. Tricks are rampant to indiscriminately infect computers with a Trojan horse and prepare them to be controlled by an outside user, the source said.

“If a PC in the country is used as a steppingstone, fraudulent access to other computers from overseas would only appear to be normal use of the computer,” an official at the affected bank said of the difficulty in taking safeguards against hackers.

However, remote access to computers can be useful in receiving outside assistance, such as when inexperienced users have complicated procedures to do on their machines, such as changing Internet providers.

By TATSUYA SUDO/ Staff Writer
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The chief of Kanagawa prefectural police’s Hodogaya police station speaks to reporters on Oct. 20 after visiting a university student’s home to offer an apology for a wrongful arrest. (Ryusaburo Matsumoto)

The chief of Kanagawa prefectural police’s Hodogaya police station speaks to reporters on Oct. 20 after visiting a university student’s home to offer an apology for a wrongful arrest. (Ryusaburo Matsumoto)

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  • The chief of Kanagawa prefectural police’s Hodogaya police station speaks to reporters on Oct. 20 after visiting a university student’s home to offer an apology for a wrongful arrest. (Ryusaburo Matsumoto)
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