Sébastien Vachon-Desjardins – a former Canadian government IT professional – has been charged with conspiracy to commit computer and electronic fraud, and other offenses in federal court in Florida, the US Department of Justice announced on Friday. Justice.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) raided Vachon-Desjardins’ home and seized 719 bitcoins worth over $28 million, or 790,000 in Canadian currency.
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Prosecutors say he used “NetWalker” ransomware to target businesses, municipalities, hospitals and law enforcement during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The arrest comes amid a global crackdown on ransomware. In November, US President Joe Biden pledged to use “the full force of the federal government” to disrupt malicious cyber activity.
Several large-scale operations have since brought down ransomware groups such as Russia-based REvil and other related hacking groups.
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Bitcoin as ransomware payment
The cybersecurity community increasingly cites bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as a significant enabler of ransomware attacks.
Suspected ransomware payments totaling $590 million were made in the first six months of 2021 and have continued to exceed estimates since the first months of 2022, US authorities said.
Another major trend that appears to be driving the increase in ransomware attacks this year is the influx of ransomware as a service offered by affiliated ransomware groups around the world.
Although the anonymity of cryptocurrency makes it an obvious way for criminals to obtain and conceal funds, stricter regulation or a ban on blockchain-based currencies is unlikely to stop the wave of fraud. attacks.
Ransomware and cryptocurrencies seem inseparably linked, with attackers almost always demanding payment in digital currencies.
Extradited from Canada
According to the US Department of Justice, Vachon-Desjardins was extradited from Canada to the United States to “face charges in connection with dozens of ransomware attacks that resulted in the payment of tens of millions of dollars in ransoms”.
According to the DOJ, Sebastien “conspired and deliberately damaged a protected computer and transmitted a ransom note in connection therewith” from April to December 2020.
In January last year, the Department of Justice launched a concerted international law enforcement operation to take down the Netwalker ransomware gang.
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NetWalker, also known as “Mailto”, is a large-scale ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) operation that recruits affiliates to deploy ransomware in exchange for a massive reduction in ransom payment. The group emerged in 2019 and has been linked to numerous high-profile attacks.
The notorious ransomware infiltrates specific networks and encrypts all Windows devices connected to them.
It renders the correlated devices and networks temporarily inoperable until the victims pay the ransom for the restitution of their data files, as well as access to their computers and networks.
It is distributed through various channels including websites, social media, instant messages, email attachments and other modes of communication.
NetWalker operators encrypt victims’ computers and demand ransoms ranging from $1,000 to $3 million.
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