A woman types on her laptop in Miami in a Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, photo illustration. An investigation into a scourge of NetWalker ransomware attacks has led to the arrest of a Canadian man, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Wednesday. According to an indictment, police in Florida charged Sebastien Vachon-Desjardins of Gatineau, Que., with illegally obtaining more than $27.6 million. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Wilfredo Lee

A woman types on her laptop in Miami in a Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, photo illustration. An investigation into a scourge of NetWalker ransomware attacks has led to the arrest of a Canadian man, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Wednesday. According to an indictment, police in Florida charged Sebastien Vachon-Desjardins of Gatineau, Que., with illegally obtaining more than $27.6 million. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Wilfredo Lee

Canadian man charged in U.S. with NetWalker ransomware attacks

The ransomware, like similar malware, often infiltrates computer networks via phishing emails

An investigation into a scourge of NetWalker ransomware attacks has led to the arrest of a Canadian man, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Wednesday.

According to an indictment, police in Florida charged Sebastien Vachon-Desjardins of Gatineau, Que., with illegally obtaining more than $27.6 million.

The accused is alleged to be part of a shadowy group of cyber criminals who have attacked several targets in Canada, including the College of Nurses of Ontario, a Canadian Tire store in B.C., and the Northwest Territories Power Corporation.

“Ransomware victims should know that coming forward to law enforcement as soon as possible after an attack can lead to significant results like those achieved in today’s multi-faceted operation,” Nicholas McQuaid, an acting assistant attorney general with the Justice Department, said in a statement.

U.S. authorities said they had seized about US$455,000 in cryptocurrency from ransom payments in three separate attacks. They also said authorities in Bulgaria had disabled a “dark web” resource used to communicate with NetWalker ransomware victims.

NetWalker operates as a so-called ransomware-as-a-service model, featuring “developers” and “affiliates,” who split the proceeds of any ransom paid. Experts say NetWalker attacks really took off last March as the criminals exploited fears of COVID-19 and people working remotely.

The ransomware, like similar malware, often infiltrates computer networks via phishing emails. Such messages masquerade as genuine, prompting users to provide log-in information or inadvertently download malware.

Earlier ransomware attacks focused on encrypting a target’s files — putting them and even backups out of reach. Increasingly, attackers also threaten to publish sensitive data stolen during the time spent inside an exploited network before encryption and detection.

Once a victim’s computer network is compromised and the data encrypted and downloaded, the NetWalker criminals demand money to return system access. If victims refuse, they might never regain their data or, more frequently now, the information is made public.

NetWalker ransomware has impacted numerous victims, including companies, municipalities, hospitals, law enforcement, emergency services, school districts, colleges and universities. Recent attacks have specifically targeted the health-care sector during the COVID-19 pandemic, taking advantage of the global crisis to extort victims.

Brett Callow, a Vancouver Island-based threat analyst with cybersecurity firm, Emsisoft, said the group had made millions. In one case last year, they extorted $1.4 million from a California university.

Police urged any victims to contact law enforcement right away.

“This case illustrates the FBI’s capabilities and global partnerships in tracking ransomware attackers, unmasking them, and holding them accountable,” Special Agent Michael McPherson, with the FBI’s field office in Tampa, Fla., said.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

hackers

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

There were six additional deaths across Alberta reported over the past 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 1,926 since the beginning of the pandemic. (File photo)
The Longhorn Saloon and Grill has opened its patio for outdoor diners. (Facebook photo)
Town of Ponoka launches new temporary seasonal patio program

The Town of Ponoka has launched a new Temporary Seasonal Patio Program… Continue reading

Dr. Wayne John Edwards, 66, died Tuesday at Chinook Regional Hospital. (Cornerstone Funeral Home)
Lethbridge doctor becomes 7th Alberta health-care worker to die from COVID-19

Dr. Wayne John Edwards, who was 66, died Tuesday at the Chinook Regional Hospital in the southern Alberta city

2019 Ponoka Stampede rodeo action. (File photo)
Chute not yet open for 2021 Ponoka Stampede

Ponoka Stampede Association still hopeful event can go ahead this year

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

A vial of some of the first 500,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada secured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Canada’s 2nd blood clot confirmed in Alberta after AstraZeneca vaccine

The male patient, who is in his 60s, is said to be recovering

The funeral of Britain’s Prince Philip in Windsor, England, on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Philip died April 9 at the age of 99. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip laid to rest Saturday as sombre queen sits alone

The entire royal procession and funeral took place out of public view within the grounds of Windsor Castle

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Doses of the Moderna COVID‑19 vaccine in a freezer trailer, to be transported to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Pfizer to increase vaccine deliveries in Canada as Moderna supply slashed

Moderna plans to ship 650,000 doses of its vaccine to Canada by the end of the month, instead of the expected 1.2 million

A empty classroom is pictured at Eric Hamber Secondary school in Vancouver, B.C. Monday, March 23, 2020. The Alberta government says schools in Calgary will move to at-home learning starting Monday for students in grades 7 to 12.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calgary schools to shift to at-home learning for grades 7 to 12 due to COVID-19

The change, due to COVID-19, is to last for two weeks

A man wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
COVID-19 spike in B.C. could overwhelm B.C. hospitals: modelling group

There are 397 people are in hospital due to the virus, surpassing a previous high of 374 seen in December

Most Read