Perak-based SEA Gamer Mall’s CEO and CPO charged by US over hacking (updated)

UPDATE: SEA Gamer Mall has released a statement saying it has “been made aware of the American allegations against two employees of the company recently”.

The two employees concerned are temporarily on leave pending the resolution of the matter, it stated, without revealing their identities.

“As a responsible company serving millions of customers around the world we are committed to and have been offering full cooperation and assistance to the authorities.

“Without compromising the integrity of any ongoing legal process, suffice to say that the company has never engaged in any illegal activity as we are a home-grown Malaysian company with hundreds of employees and millions of customers all around the world.

“SEA Gamer Mall will continue to take significant steps to manage the claims. Rest assured that the management of the company has the best interests of each and every customer at heart and we will continue giving our best services to our customers,” it added.

PETALING JAYA: Perak-based SEA Gamer Mall said it’s looking at the indictment papers issued by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) which has charged its staff, Wong Ong Hua and Ling Yang Ching, for involvement in an international hacking group.

“All I can say is that we are looking at the indictment papers. Our lawyers are working on it. Have no other comments,” SEA Gamer Mall chief operating officer Tommy Chieng said when contacted over WhatsApp.

In a second indictment in August, the DoJ charged Wong, 46, and Ling, 32 with 23 counts of racketeering, conspiracy, identity theft, aggravated identity theft, access device fraud, money laundering, violations of the CFAA (computer fraud and abuse act), and falsely registering domain names.

Wong is the founder and chief executive office of SEA Gamer Mall, which is based in Sitiawan, Perak while Ling is listed as a partner and chief product officer, according to the company website.

“First, as the core of APT-41’s computer hacking, the Chinese defendants targeted well over 100 victims worldwide in a variety of industries and sectors that are, sadly, part of the standard target list for Chinese hackers,” said US Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen in a statement.

“These criminal acts were turbo-charged by a sophisticated technique referred to as a ‘supply chain attack’, in which the Chinese hackers compromised software providers around the world, and modified the providers’ code to install backdoors that enabled further hacks against the software providers’ customers.

“Second, and as an additional method of making money, several of the Chinese defendants compromised the networks of video game companies worldwide (a billion-dollar industry) and defrauded them of in-game resources.

“Two of the Chinese defendants stand accused, with two Malaysian defendants, of selling those resources on the black market, through their illicit website.”

At this point it’s unclear what are the in-game resources, as it could be in-game currency for purchasing virtual goods like clothes or even art assets of a video game.

Gaming analytics company Newzoo reported that 20.1 million gamers in Malaysia spent US$673mil (RM2.7bil) on games in 2019, making it one of the biggest gaming markets in Southeast Asia.

It stated that the majority of gamers spent money on in-game items or virtual goods with the most common being power-ups or additional abilities for a game avatar.

SEA Gamer Mall was established in 2007 with offices in China, Thailand and Indonesia.

On its website, the company claimed that it has 1.9 million registered users and, in a 2017 news article, Wong was quoted as saying most of the website’s sales came from prepaid top-up cards and online game virtual items.

The company netted RM386mil in revenue in 2019 and is projected to hit RM500mil this year as the Covid-19 pandemic has led to more people playing games and purchasing in-game items, Chieng said in a LifestyleTech report.

The US DoJ report stated that Wong and Ling were arrested on Sept 14 through cooperation with local enforcement authorities and are now facing extradition proceedings.

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