Jan 27, 2021 - Technology

European and North American authorities disrupt massive ransomware network

European Union's law enforcement agency's headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands.
European Union's law enforcement agency's headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands. Photo: Yuriko Nakao/Getty Images

European and North American police on Wednesday took control of the infrastructure behind a massive network used by criminals to conduct cybercrime, the AP reports.

Why it matters: By claiming the infrastructure, authorities dealt a major blow to cyber criminals who use Emotet — one of the world's largest networks of hijacked computers — to install ransomware as part of extortion schemes and financial theft heists.

Context: Ransomware criminals have crippled healthcare systems and governments with the help of networks of hijacked computers like Emotet.

  • Ransomware works by scrambling a victim's data, allowing criminals to demand money in exchange for decoding software to repair the data.

The big picture: European Union police and the judicial agencies Europol and Eurojus, two Hague-based agencies, coordinated the operation with authorities in the Netherlands, Germany, the United States, the U.K., France, Lithuania, Canada and Ukraine.

Meanwhile: The FBI announced Wednesday that it arrested a Canadian as part of a bid to disrupt the ransomware gang NetWalker, which it said had targeted the health care sector. Included in the arrest was the seizure of nearly half a million dollars in cryptocurrency.

Thought bubble, via Zach Dorfman of the Aspen Institute: The sheer number of countries involved and scale of the operation and coordination headaches shows how serious a challenge cyber criminal groups and botnets have become.

  • As Wired notes, it was a “global effort” that took down command-and-control infrastructure in 90 countries.
  • And unlike a joint public-private action last year designed to hobble the massive Trickbot botnet, the move against Emotet appears aimed at permanently crushing it.

Go deeper: The rise and rise of ransomware

Go deeper