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

The emergency department at Peace Arch Hospital in White Rock, B.C., in July 2020. (Black Press Media)
Peace Arch Hospital Foundation reaches $12 million goal

New operating suites to open this fall

Peace Arch Hospital Foundation executive director Stephanie Beck speaks at a 2017 groundbreaking ceremony. In March 2020, she announced the Rapid Response Grant Program, aimed at providing financial assistance during the pandemic. (File photo)
Peace Arch Hospital Foundation launches youth program

Youth in Action designed for students who want to make an impact in their community

The RCMP logo is seen outside Royal Canadian Mounted Police “E” Division Headquarters, in Surrey, B.C., on April 13, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Surrey RCMP asking for dash-cam video of ‘suspicious incident’

Incident involves a newer model Toyota Rav 4 SUV

Elvira D’Angelo, 92, waits to receive her COVID-19 vaccination shot at a clinic in Montreal, Sunday, March 7, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
‘It’s been a good week’: Tam hopeful on vaccines as pandemic anniversary nears

Tam says the addition of two new vaccines will help Canadians get immunized faster

The Kimber family of Boston Bar lost their home in a fire. Blaine Kimber’s daughter created a fundraiser to help rebuild the home with the goal of $100,000. (Screenshot/GoFundMe)
Fundraiser created for Boston Bar family that lost everything in weekend fire

Witnesses say the Kimber family escaped the fire without injury, but their home is a total loss

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Pictures and notes in from friends and classmates make up a memorial in support and memory of Aubrey Berry, 4, and her sister Chloe, 6, during a vigil held at Willows Beach in Oak Bay, B.C., on December 30, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Mother of slain daughters supports recent changes to Canada’s Divorce Act

Sarah Cotton-Elliott said she believed her children took a back seat to arranging equal parenting

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

The family of injured Willoughby resident Ronald Gerald Jesso is hoping someone saw something that will help solve the mystery of how he came to be so badly hurt on the morning of Feb. 22. Jesso is still in hospital. (Jesso family/Special to Langley Advance Times)
An appeal to help solve the mystery of an injured Langley man

Family of Ronald Gerald Jesso asks witnesses to come forward

Most Read