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Suspected hackers nabbed in European sting

November 8, 2021

Investigators from four European countries have made arrests in raids targeting groups behind ransomware attacks, Europol says. The suspects are accused of carrying out some 7,000 cyberattacks.

 Padlock in front of computer screen
Ransomware attacks on businesses and institutions are becoming increasingly frequentImage: Andreas Haas/imago images

Seven people suspected of carrying out global cyberattacks on businesses and institutions have been arrested since February in an international operation, European investigators said on Monday.

Officials said two people were arrested in Romania last Thursday, while five others were detained in other countries earlier. The two Romanians alone are alleged to have carried out 5,000 cyberattacks from a total of 7,000 under investigation in Europe.

The alleged attacks used ransomware, a type of software that locks up the contents of targeted computers until the owners pay money. The suspects are said to have procured millions of euros through their crimes.

What is the law enforcement operation?

Eurojust, an EU agency dealing with judicial cooperation, said German, French, Romanian and Swiss teams took part in the recent European raids, which formed part of an international investigation called GoldDust. The US and 16 other countries are involved in the probe.

The groups targeted include the Russian-based gang REvil, also known as Sodinokibi, and the ransomware group GandCrab, according to Europol, the EU's police agency.

How much are hackers making?

What are the gangs accused of?

"Suspected of about 7,000 infections, the arrested affiliates asked for more than €200 million ($232 million) in ransom," the statement from Europol said.

It said the two Romanians took in around half a million euros.

Eurojust said companies, local administrations, hospitals, schools, universities and courts were among the bodies targeted by the hackers.

REvil, with which the Romanian hackers were associated, has been linked among other things to cyberattacks on the world's largest meat processor, JBS SA.

Two other suspected REvil members indicted by US authorities

Monday saw two other suspected REvil members, one Ukrainian and one Russian, indicted on cybercrime charges in the US in connection with a wave of ransomware attacks.

Officials said the Ukrainian man was recently arrested in Poland, while the US government had recovered $6.1 million (€5.3 million) in criminal earnings from the Russian suspect.

US President Joe Biden praised the indictments in a statement and added that cybersecurity is a "core priority" of his administration.

"When I met with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin in June, I made clear that the United States would take action to hold cybercriminals accountable," Biden said. "That's what we have done today." 

tj,wd/fb (dpa, AFP, AP)