Cybercrime in the Asia-Pacific Region 1
CYBERCRIME AND THE
ASIA-PACIFIC REGION
Meghan Edwards
The Aracari Project
WWW.ARACARIPROJECT.IO
Cybercrime in the Asia-Pacific Region 2
Abstract
In an increasingly digital world cybercrime continues to rise. Cybercrime continues to
represent an increasing threat to Asian countries. This study analyzes the different
forms of cybercrime and the associated scams linked to it along with analyzing why
these crimes are occurring at an increased rate. This study’s ultimate goal is to
increase understanding of cybercrime in the Asia-Pacific region, discuss why
cybercrime is so high there, and offer a comprehensive view of the leading groups
carrying out these attacks. This study will be conducted using content analysis using
publications on cybercrime, cybercrime, and scams in the Asia-Pacific region, and
publication and data on the various groups carrying out these scams and attacks.
Keywords:
Cybercrime; Asia-Pacific; DDoS; Ransomware; Hack
Introduction
Cybercrime is widely prevalent and increasing as the world continues to
modernize, it has increased at a high rate in the Asia-Pacific region for a multitude of
reasons. Three major reasons include a lack of cyber security and awareness, quicker
transactions, and an increase in internet connectivity (Harby, 2019). The major forms
of cyber-attacks that are prevalent in the Asia-Pacific region include “ransomware,
scams, crime as a service attack (the practice of cybercriminals selling access to the
Cybercrime in the Asia-Pacific Region 3
tools and knowledge needed to execute cybercrime), hacking and Denial of Service
(DDoS) Attacks (attacks designed to crash IT systems)” (Williams, 2022).
This research aims to analyze the current literature surrounding cybercrime and
scams in the Asia-Pacific region and offer a comprehensive review of why these
crimes are occurring at an increasingly heightened rate as well as offering a detail
explain of who these actors are and where they are located. This research will further
analyze what the crimes are and how they are being conducted. The hope is that this
research will offer a more concise and comprehensive look into the current data out
there.
Literature Review
The rapid growth in internet use in the Asia-Pacific region (especially in China,
Indonesia, and India) since 2002, has contributed to the significant increase in
cybercrime in the region (Broadhurst & Chang, 2013). The top countries to
experience the largest increase in cyberattacks in the Asia-Pacific region were Japan,
Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia. The increase in occurrence of these crimes
continues to rise, for example, the Check Point Research report stated, the Asian
Pacific region experienced a 168% year-on-year increase in cyberattacks in May
2021 compared to May 2020 (Williams, 2022).
Cybercrime in the Asia-Pacific Region 4
China
The Chinese Judicial Big Data Research Institute conducted an analysis of
cybercrime in China and discovered that between 2017-2021 40% of their
cybercrimes involved some form of fraud. Most of these fraud cases focused on fake
loans, impersonation, and false recruitment (Wyk, 2022). A recent case involving
false recruitment and a “Pig Butchering” scam (gaining someone’s trust under false
pretenses to get them to invest in phony investments and taking all of their money)
(Olcott, 2022) involved the Chinese Mafia who falsely recruited individuals from the
Philippines under the guise of employment with call centers and offshore gaming
operator jobs in Thailand. However, these individuals would end up becoming victims
of Human Trafficking as they were brought to Myanmar where the victims are then
taught how to scam people around the world by establishing relationships through
social media apps like Facebook, WhatsApp, and the dating platform Tinder (Butts,
2022). They were instructed to target professionals and get them to invest in
cryptocurrency apps that would take their money and give it to the Chinese Mafia.
Failure to comply with this would result in a lack of food, being sold to another
company, and threats to their lives (Butts, 2022). However, many more groups within
China are a lot more active, many of whom target high-profile companies.
Cybercrime in the Asia-Pacific Region 5
One of the most active Chinese Hacking groups that were named by the U.S
Department of Justice in 2020, is the Double Dragon (also known as ATP41, Barium,
Winnti, Wicked Panda, Wicked Spider, TG-2633, Bronze Atlas, Red Kelpie, and
Blackfly). They are believed to be sponsored by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)
for espionage purposes while also moonlighting for their financial gain. One such
operation they conducted compromised over 100 different companies (Carrega &
Perez, 2020). Double Dragon has targeted over 14 countries, most notably the
United States. Some of their activities include incidents of tracking, the compromising
of business supply chains, and collecting surveillance data. One of their most recent
operations occurred in 2022 where they stole at least $20 million in COVID-19 relief
aid for the United States (Carrega & Perez, 2020; Fitzpatrick & Ramgopal, 2022).
Double Dragon uses a variety of techniques including passive backdoors to access
files (which is harder to detect than the traditional backdoor access) and supply-chain
compromises where they inject code into legitimate files to compromise the system
and gain access. Finally, they will often use a malware program known as Bootkit (a
variation of rootkit that replaces the original program with a compromised one to
gain access, it is incredibly difficult to detect). These tools are utilized most often
through false video games that will give them total access to a system (Fraser et al.,
2019).
Cybercrime in the Asia-Pacific Region 6
Hong Kong
Hong Kong specifically has seen a significant increase in cryptocurrency scams,
as of 2022, Hong Kong saw a 105% increase in these scams since 2021. They have
seen HK$1.5 billion (US$ 201 million) in crypto scams alone between January and
June of 2022, a 41% increase compared to the same time frame in 2021 (Liu, 2022).
A major component of these scams comes from romance and investment scams.
Individuals will meet their victims online, posing as attractive young men and women
and they will eventually convince the individual to invest in cryptocurrency. One such
scam would target people on various dating sites like Tinder. Once a foundation of
trust was built they would then be convinced to buy legitimate cryptocurrency through
WhatsApp and then trade it into OEN ( Crypto Coin) . These scammers would use
two different sites to make the trade into OEN, Bitfex. pro and Bitfex.vip (Chan,
2021). The investors would then proceed to go and pull out the expected profits from
the investment but instead would be asked to put more money in, eventually leaving
them with very little cash and the scammer would proceed to disappear. Bitfex.pro is
suspected to be a sister website to the Hong Kong-based site oen.asia, both of which
are run by Wu Weidong, who is suspected of running five other similar sites (Chan,
2021).
Cybercrime in the Asia-Pacific Region 7
Many similar scams will use fake crypto websites that will create a fake chart
that will showcase one’s deposited funds growing. Many will even allow an individual
to withdraw a small number of their funds in an attempt to build trust, however any
attempt to withdraw all of one’s funds will show that they have no money in their
account (Tse, 2023).
Hong Kong has begun to take steps in combating crypto-based scams, such as
drafting regulatory requirements for licensed crypto exchanges and working on
amendments to their licensing regime for virtual asset service providers. This will
require a license to conduct crypto business in Hong Kong and will take effect in June
of 2023 (Qin, 2022). In September 2022, the Hong Kong police also launched a
service called Scameter. A service that will allow users to search phone numbers, and
names to see if they have been flagged as being related to a scam. They will be color
coordinated to indicate the risk level or indicate if they have not been linked to any
scam services. Finally, the site will also provide fraud prevention tips (Zou, 2023).
Indonesia
The Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre of Indonesia (PPATK)
has reported a significate increase in cybercrime between 2019-2021, there was a
reported 9,801 reported cases in 2019 whereas there were 23,000 reported in 2021
Cybercrime in the Asia-Pacific Region 8
(UNDOC, 2022) One common scam is the Pig Butchering method, rather then a
typical romance scam, the individual will text a number acting as if they know them,
should the victim reply saying they have the wrong number the scammer will then
attempt to strike up a conversation to get them to become friendly with one another
(Newman, 2023). If the victim takes the bait, the scammer will eventually suggest that
they invest in cryptocurrency, should they agree, they will suggest a malicious app or
website to utilize, many of which mimic legitimate services. They will be able to draw
out a small amount to make it appear legitimate, however, once they invest all that
they can the scammer will stop correspondence, take the money, and disappear
(Newman, 2023).
Malaysia
Between 2017-2021 Malaysia reported 98,607 online fraud cases, one major
scam was romance scamming. (Hazim, 2022) One such cryptocurrency scam
associated with this is what is known as the CryptoRom (utilizing apps that give full
access to one’s information and data), which targets Android and iPhone users
through the popular dating apps Bumble and Tinder. Once the scammer has gained
the victims' trust, they will convince them to invest in cryptocurrency on fake websites.
When the victims would try to withdraw their invested money, they would find that
Cybercrime in the Asia-Pacific Region 9
their accounts had been frozen, and they must pay hundreds of thousands of dollars
in fake profit taxes to regain access (Wong, 2022). Along with that, some of the
practitioners of the CryptoRom scam, have learned how to bypass much of Apple’s
software that prevents scams by using Apple's TestFlight programs to test beta apps.
Some individuals who test the beta apps had been instructed via email to test an app
called BTCBOX, a Japanese Cryptocurrency exchange. Many of which utilize minimal
coding to gain access (Wong, 2022).
Singapore
The Singapore police force reported in 2021, that cybercrime, more
specifically scams, increased by 36% from the 2020 reports. Like the scams in Hong
Kong, many Singaporeans have fallen victim to romance scams that follow the Pig
Butchering scam. Many victims would be lured into investing in some form, where
they would have to pay administrative fees, security fees, or taxes to reap their
profits. Many earned a small profit in the initial stages, leading them to believe that
the investments were real, the money would usually be transferred to a bank located
in China and Hong Kong (Tan, 2022).
Another major cybercrime in Singapore utilizes deep fake accounts of high-
profile individuals (such as Elon Musk) to enter into cryptocurrency giveaways in
Cybercrime in the Asia-Pacific Region 10
exchange for their crypto wallet details and personal information (Sum, 2022). A
Singapore cyber security group known as Group IB found that this scam alone
garnered S$2.4 million (USD$1.68 million) between February 16th-18th 2022. These
scams involved a total of 281 transactions all linked to a deep fake account
promoting a cryptocurrency giveaway (Sum, 2022). A main issue that Singapore has
found is the difficulty in solving these types of cases as many of these crimes are being
committed by people outside of Singapore. Most of the money transactions are to
accounts outside of Singapore as well, making it difficult for the individuals to get
their money back and difficult to solve unless they have the cooperation of law
enforcement agencies outside of Singapore (Sum, 2022).
Method
This research is a nonreactive study employing content analysis as it utilized data and
research that had already been published. A content analysis analyzes certain words,
ideas, and phrases to understand better the topic and research focus area (Pedhazur
& Schmelkin, 1991). Content analysis can take one of two approaches latent
(interpret the meaning) or manifest content (evidence that is directly seen, such as
words or phrases). This study utilizes the latent content method (Holsti, 1969). The
research study design used content analysis to explore various works, including
Cybercrime in the Asia-Pacific Region 11
reports and literature reviews, on cybercrime with a focus on crypto-based internet
crime. These sources were chosen due to their in-depth analysis of cybercrime in the
Asia-Pacific region and their focus on cryptocurrency scams.
Sample Design
This analysis employed a purposive sample as the topic area was very specific. A
purposive sampling method is a nonprobability sampling method that involves the
researcher using their expertise to select a sample that is most useful to the purposes
of the research. Which relies on qualitative data rather than statistical data (Lavrakas,
2008). This research focused solely on cybercrime that involved any sort of money
exchange with an emphasis on cryptocurrency-related crimes and it excluded any
data involving cybercrime outside of these set focal points. This research focused on
different elements of the crime such as how they were being committed, what areas or
regions these crimes were found in, why they were occurring at higher rates, and
what groups may be responsible for the crime. The sources used allowed for a better
understanding of the different countries of focus along with a better understanding of
why these cybercrimes were occurring at a higher rate.
Cybercrime in the Asia-Pacific Region 12
Key Variables
This research included independent and dependent variables. The independent
variable of increased internet usage and cryptocurrency popularity affects the
dependent variable of cybercrime and cryptocurrency scams. The increase in internet
usage and the popularity of cryptocurrency allowed cybercrime to rise at a much
faster rate. These variables seem to support the ideology that as internet use increases
so too will internet crime.
Results
An extensive search was conducted on the various cyber crimes affecting the Asia-
Pacific region with an emphasis on cryptocurrency-based crime. In looking at all the
published work relevant to this research, it had to meet specific criteria, as noted in
the methods section. The following table from Statista will showcase the highest
internet usage by country in Asia. Table 1: Internet usage by country, specifically
looking at the highest internet usage. This table helps to show a correlation between
the aforementioned evidence of increased cybercrime in the specific countries listed
out as it correlates with the increased use of the internet. It should note that this graph
does exclude Hong Kong in this graph.
Cybercrime in the Asia-Pacific Region 13
Table 1: Highest-rated internet usage by country in Asia
Table 1
The above table represents the highest-rated internet users in Asia with the
corresponding rates throughout 2022.
Figure 1 provides an example of a romance scam that is prevalent in Indonesia where
they will purposely text a wrong number.
Figure 1: Example texts of romance scams in Indonesia (Genc, 2022)