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

Just Posted

Patrons rip around a corner on the go-kart course at Lakeshore Go-Karts and Mini-Golf. (Photo by Megan Roth/Sylvan Lake News)
Sylvan Lake go-kart and mini golf course reopens after fire

Last August the outdoor facility was shut down after a fire burned through much of the business

(File photo from The Canadian Press)
Red Deer down to 66 active COVID-19 cases

Red Deer has lowest number of active cases since last November

A small selection of shoes line a step at the Municipal Government Building in Sylvan Lake, with each pair representing a vicitm of residential schools in Canada. Tracey Greinke placed the first pair of shoes on the steps, hoping more would follow. (Photo by Megan Roth/Sylvan Lake News)
Sylvan Lake woman sets up small memorial for residential school victims

Tracey Grienke placed a pair of moccasins on the steps of town hall, and a few more followed

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

Left handed pitcher Evan Wilde started the game for Sylvan Lake and allowed four runs in the 12-10 extra-innings loss against the Edmonton Prospects on Sunday in Western Canadian Baseball League play. (Photos by Byron Hacket/Blakc Press News Media)
Historic opening weekend for Sylvan Lake Gulls

The Gulls finished the opening weekend with one win and two losses

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

Fans watch the warm-up before Game 6 between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens in NHL playoff hockey action Saturday, May 29, 2021 in Montreal. Quebec’s easing of COVID-19 restrictions will allow 2,500 fans to attend the game for the first time in fourteen months. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Two-thirds of Canadians say governments shouldn’t lift all COVID-19 restrictions

Poll reports Canadians who gained pandemic weight say they have gained 16 pounds on average

Paul Bernardo is shown in this courtroom sketch during Ontario court proceedings via video link in Napanee, Ont., on October 5, 2018. Teen killer and serial rapist Paul Bernardo is set for a parole hearing today. The designated dangerous offender, has been eligible for full parole for more than three years. Bernardo’s horrific crimes in the 1980s and early 1990s include for kidnapping, torturing and killing Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy near St. Catharines, Ont. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Greg Banning
Killer rapist Paul Bernardo faces parole hearing today; victim families opposed

Designated dangerous offender has been eligible for full parole for more than three years.

People look over the damage after a tornado touched down in Mascouche, Que., north of Montreal, Monday, June 21, 2021. Dozens of homes were damaged and one death has been confirmed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
One dead and extensive damage as tornado hits Mascouche, Que., north of Montreal

Damage reported in several parts of the city, and emergency teams dispatched to sectors hardest hit

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

A pair of Alberta residents were arrested after police responded to a report of a woman who had allegedly been assaulted and confined against her will on June 20, 2021. (File photo)
Salmon Arm RCMP arrest 2 Albertans suspected in alleged assault, unlawful confinement

Firearms, stolen items seized including NHL hockey cards believed to be worth thousands

A man makes his way past signage to a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadians encouraged to see mRNA shots as interchangeable as more 2nd doses open up

Doctors urge people not to hesitate if offered Moderna after getting Pfizer for their first shot

Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance sits in the front row during a news conference in Ottawa on June 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Defence committee rises without report on Vance allegations

Committee had been investigating the government’s handling of complaints against former defence chief

Tl’etinqox-lead ceremony at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission in Williams Lake, B.C., June 18, 2021. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
‘We are all one people’: Honouring residential school victims and survivors

Love, support and curiousity: Canadians urged to learn about residential schools and their impact

Most Read