T-Mobile allegedly tried to buy leaked data from a hacker forum for $200k

Padlocks on a dollar to represent the cost of cyber crime

Telecoms giant T-Mobile tried to pay hackers to limit the spread of stolen data, according to unsealed court documents.

However, the move backfired as the assailants went on to leak the information more widely, Vice reports.

T-Mobile confirmed that it had been breached last year, with hackers threatening to sell the personal data of 30 million customers for six bitcoin - said to be worth around $270,000 at the time. However, on Tuesday, an indictment unsealed by the Department of Justice revealed that the tech giant had employed a third-party firm that paid the hackers $200,000 for exclusive access to the stolen data so that it could prevent any further leaks.

The indictment was against Diofo Santos Coelho, who is alleged to have administrated the popular hacking site 'RaidForums'. He was arrested in the UK in March and extradited to the US to stand trial over a particular set of data found on RaidForums. In August 2021, an individual using the moniker "SubVirt" had posted an offer to sell data stolen from an organisation simply listed as "Company 3". Another post on the site confirms that the data belongs to a "major telecommunications company" that operates in the US.

The document goes on to say that the unnamed company "hired a third-party" to act as a buyer and purchase exclusive access to the databases to prevent them from being sold to "criminals". An employee of the third party is said to have used RaidForums' 'middleman service', which is operated by the administrator, to buy a sample of the data for $50,000 worth of bitcoin. It is claimed that the same employee then purchased the entire database for around $150,000, with a request that SubVirt would then delete their copy. However, it appears that the hackers continued to try and sell the database after the third-parties purchase, according to the court documents.

This is one of several reasons victim companies are discouraged from paying ransom demands to hackers. Third parties are often brought in to investigate breaches and advise on the best courses of action. Some may offer controversial services, such as revenge hacking, but it is generally held that paying ransom demands doesn't work.

In the UK, around 82% of businesses infected with ransomware ended up paying in 2021, according to research from Proofpoint.

Bobby Hellard

Bobby Hellard is ITPro's Reviews Editor and has worked on CloudPro and ChannelPro since 2018. In his time at ITPro, Bobby has covered stories for all the major technology companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, and regularly attends industry-leading events such as AWS Re:Invent and Google Cloud Next.

Bobby mainly covers hardware reviews, but you will also recognize him as the face of many of our video reviews of laptops and smartphones.