Ottawa man charged after OPP, RCMP and FBI investigate years of cyber attacks

Click to play video: 'Ottawa man arrested in international cybercrime investigation' Ottawa man arrested in international cybercrime investigation
WATCH ABOVE: An Ottawa man is in custody and has been charged following a 23-month cybercrime investigation. Erica Vella reports – Dec 7, 2021

A 31-year-old man from Ottawa is facing charges after a multi-year cross-border investigation into cyber attacks against governments, businesses and individuals in the United States and Canada.

The Ontario Provincial Police held a joint press conference with members of the RCMP and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s attaché in Ottawa on Tuesday to unveil the results of Project CODA, which investigated recent spikes in cybercrime.

The FBI first got into contact with the OPP in January 2020 to alert the provincial force about ransomware and malware attacks originating in Canada.

OPP and the Mounties conducted a “separate, parallel investigation” alongside the FBI, based on the U.S. intelligence agency’s tips, with help from Europol.

Officials did not provide specifics on the volume or specific targets of attacks under investigation. However, they stated the attacks were “numerous” and included businesses, government agencies and individuals on both sides of the border.

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OPP Dep. Insp. Matt Watson said the cyberattacks could be described as “malspam,” wherein victims are sent unsolicited emails with “infected attachments.” When opened, these attachments would enable access to the computer’s system, monitoring activity, collecting login credentials and initiating unauthorized online banking transactions.

In one 2018 incident, the State of Alaska was targeted, according to the FBI and U.S. Department of Justice.

Matthew Philbert, arrested by OPP on Nov. 30, is facing a series of Criminal Code charges in connection with the investigation, including possession of a device to obtain unauthorized use of a computer system or to commit mischief, fraud, and unauthorized use of a computer.

During the arrest, OPP said they seized several computers, tablets, cellphones, a Bitcoin seed phrase and blank cards with magnetic stripes.

Philbert also faces a federal indictment in the U.S., where he is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and related activity in connection with computers and one count of fraud and related activity in connection with computers, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Alaska.

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The suspect has been held in custody pending future court appearances, Watson said.

The FBI’s assistant legal attaché in Ottawa, Brian Abellera, said it’s believed the suspect conspired with others, some of whom are known to the U.S.

Chris Lynam, Director-General of the RCMP’s National Cybercrime Coordination Unit, said Tuesday that cybercrime “regularly crosses jurisdictional borders,” warranting collaborations between multiple agencies like Project CODA.

The OPP said it has seen a 140-percent increase in reports of cybercrime since 2019.

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