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“Sharking” attack hacks a poker star’s laptop to gain the upper hand

Cyber espionage; Spear-phishing; Unauthorized use of system administrator privileges

Whereas phishing attempts cast a wide net, sharking attempts target specific gamblers. In one instance, real-world and online poker player Jens Kyllöne parked his Audi outside the Helsinki headquarters of cyber research firm F-Secure and confirmed a hunch that his computer had been bugged during a tournament.

While staying at a five-star hotel hosting the European Poker Tour last September, he returned to his room to find the laptop was gone. Kyllöne figured a friend had borrowed it, went to check and when he got back, the laptop had reappeared.

When the laptop failed to boot properly, Kyllöne took it in for a forensic investigation.

“Laptop security is paramount for professional poker players, especially those who play online,” F-Secure researchers said. And especially those who rake in $2.5 million a year. By installing malicious software that can remotely control a target’s computer, a hacker can see “that the infected machine or the victim is holding a pair of queens. This gives the attacker an edge, so he knows to hold out for a better hand,” the researchers explained.

The evil code in Kyllöne’s case, a Remote Access Trojan, had timestamps coinciding with the period when the laptop had disappeared. Apparently, the attacker installed the trojan on a thumb drive and configured it to automatically start during every reboot.

After this discovery, F-Secure started looking for other victims. And, yep, another professional player, Henri Jaakkola, who stayed in the same room as Jens at the Barcelona event, had the exact same trojan lurking in his laptop.

“The phenomenon is now big enough that we think it warrants its own name: Sharking. Sharking attacks are targeted attacks against professional poker players (a.k.a. poker sharks). It's similar to Whaling attacks which are targeted at high profile business managers,” the researchers said.

ThreatWatch is a regularly updated catalog of data breaches successfully striking every sector of the globe, as reported by journalists, researchers and the victims themselves. 




December 10, 2013

reported by


number affected


location of breach

Barcelona, Spain



location of perpetrators

Barcelona, Spain

date breach occurred


date breach detected


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