Sebastien Vachon-Desjardins – a former Canadian government IT professional – was indicted in a federal court in Florida on charges of computer and cable fraud and conspiracy to commit other crimes, the U.S. Department of Justice said Friday.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) raided Vachan-Desjardin’s home and seized 719 bitcoins or 790,000 in Canadian currency worth more than $ 28 million.

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Prosecutors claim he used “networkwalker” ransomware to target businesses, municipalities, hospitals and law enforcement during the height of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The arrests come in the wake of a global crackdown on ransomware. In November, U.S. President Joe Biden promised to use “the full power of the federal government” to thwart malicious cyber activity.

Since then, several large-scale operations have brought down ransomware groups such as Russia-based REvil and other related hacking groups.

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Bitcoin as a ransomware payment

The cybersecurity community increasingly cites Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies as a significant enabler of ransomware attacks.

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A total of $ 590 million in suspicious ransomware payments were made in the first six months of 2021 and exceeded estimates since the first month of 2022, U.S. authorities said.

Another major trend that seems to be the reason for the increase in ransomware attacks this year is the advent of ransomware as a service offered by approved ransomware groups around the world.

While cryptocurrency makes it an obvious way for anonymous criminals to obtain and conceal funds, strict controls or restrictions on blockchain-based currencies are less likely to stem the tide of attacks.

Ransomware and cryptocurrencies are inextricably linked, with attackers almost always demanding payment in digital currency.

Repatriated from Canada

According to the US Department of Justice, Vachan-Desjardin was extradited from Canada to the United States “to face dozens of ransomware assault charges that resulted in a ransom of several million dollars.”

According to the DOJ, from April to December 2020, Sebastian “conspired to damage and intentionally damage a secure computer and sent a ransom claim to do so.”

In January last year, the Justice Department launched an integrated international law enforcement operation to destroy the Ransomware Gang Network.

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Networker

NetWalker, also known as “Mailto”, is a large-scale ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) operation that hires partners to deploy ransomware in exchange for a substantial reduction in ransom payments. The group debuted in 2019 and was involved in many high-profile attacks.

Famous ransomware infiltrates certain networks and encrypts all Windows devices connected to it.

It temporarily disables devices and interconnected networks until victims pay a ransom to return their data files, as well as gain access to their computers and networks.

It is distributed through various channels including websites, social media, instant messaging, email attachments and other means of communication.

NetWalker’s operators encrypt the victims’ computers and demanded a ransom of $ 1,000 to $ 3 million.

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