UK Police Make Arrest in Connection With VTech Hacking

British law enforcement officials arrest a 21-year-old man in connection with the attack on toy maker VTech that exposed 6 million parents and children to risk.

VTech hack

Barely three weeks after the first public disclosure about a massive data breach at toy vendor VTech, an arrest related to the incident has been made.

Law enforcement officials from the United Kingdom's South East Regional Organized Crime Unit (Serocu) publicly announced the arrest this morning of a 21-year-old male in Bracknell, 32 miles west of London. Serocu is not publicly disclosing the name of the individual at this time.

The arrested individual was apprehended on the suspicion that he is connected to the VTech hack. The two charges against the 21-year-old include suspicions of unauthorized access to a computer to facilitate the commission of an offense, which is contrary to section 2 of the UK's Computer Misuse Act 1990. The second charge is suspicion of causing a computer to perform a function to secure/enable unauthorized access to a program/data, which goes against section 1 of the UK's Computer Misuse Act 1990.

As part of the arrest, Serocu's Cyber Crime eForensics Unit seized multiple electronic items from the suspect.

"We are still at the early stages of the investigation and there is still much work to be done," Craig Jones, head of the Cyber Crime Unit at SEROCU, said in a statement. "We will continue to work closely with our partners to identify those who commit offenses and hold them to account."

VTech did not become aware of the breach until Nov. 24, though the breach occurred Nov. 14. In response to the attack, VTech suspended the Learning Lodge apps store as well as 13 affected VTech Websites.

In total, VTech estimates that the breach affects 4,854,209 parent and 6.3 million associated child profiles. From a geographical perspective, consumers in the United State were the most impacted, with 2.2 million parent and 2.9 million child profiles affected. In the United Kingdom, the breach affected 560,487 parent accounts and 727,155 child accounts.

After the initial reports emerged about the VTech breach, a individual claiming to be the VTech hacker contacted Motherboard and claimed to have been able access 190GB of photo and audio files from parents and children. There is no public confirmation at this time whether the individual arrested in the United Kingdom is the same as the individual that claimed to have access to the VTech data.

VTech did not respond to a request for comment from eWEEK by press time.

VTech has admitted that the attacker was able to get access to information by way of the company's database.

"We are currently investigating how the hacker was able to access the database," a VTech FAQ on the hack states. "What is clear is that this was a criminal act and a well-planned attack."

Security that eWEEK contacted were somewhat surprised at how quickly an arrest was made in the VTech hacking incident.

"This arrest coming so quickly is certainly is a surprise," Marcus Carey, founder and CTO of vThreat, told eWEEK. "The fact that he was tracked down so quickly indicates that he practiced bad OPSEC [operations security]. Either he performed the attacks from an easily traceable IP address, which may have been detected during the VTech incident response, or he may have been identified by friends, family or online acquaintances whom he told of the attack."

Justin Harvey, chief security officer of Fidelis Cybersecurity, was also surprised at the speed of the arrest, which involved multiple legal jurisdictions. Harvey noted that the quick arrest could herald a new era of fighting and investigating cyber-crime if governments can communicate and act faster.

"In this example, the United Kingdom and the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong were able to cooperate in an expeditious manner to apprehend this suspect," Harvey told eWEEK.

Harvey said he suspects that the VTech attacker did not take precautions to hide his tracks very well, namely routing and proxying traffic through multiple hops in order to avoid investigation and detection.

"If he were to have routed his traffic through a variety of countries, that would have made it extremely difficult to get cooperation from all of the governments where the proxies were," Harvey said.

Andrew Blaich, lead security analyst at Bluebox Security, also commented about the digital trail that the arrested VTech hacker must have left in order to get caught.

"If investigators did find the suspect related to the VTech data breach this fast, then it's very likely the person left a digital footprint or breadcrumb trail that forensic investigators were able to follow," Blaich told eWEEK.

There are still many unknowns in the VTech attack that could yet expose consumers to risk, Blaich said. "What is scarier is if the person responsible for the attack shared the trove of data they have with anyone else," he said. "This means that even finding the culprit won't necessarily prevent the release of the personal information for millions of children."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.