Cops Nail Ransomware Gang in Ukraine

Here’s something that doesn’t happen every day. Police in Ukraine said this week they arrested members of a major ransomware gang:

The arrests mark the first time a law enforcement agency has announced a mass arrest of a prolific hacker group that had extorted Americans by either encrypting an organization’s files or threatening to leak them to the public. The gang, known as Cl0p, has hacked a number of American targets, including the University of Miami, Florida, Stanford University, University of Maryland, and University of Colorado, demanding a payment to either keep their systems functional or to not publish material they were able to steal. The bust comes as ransomware has gone from a quietly pervasive cybersecurity problem to a broadly discussed national security issue, thanks to a series of high-profile attacks that have threatened to cripple some U.S. supply chains.

Ukraine’s announcement coincided with President Joe Biden’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva. Biden is expected to press Putin to take action against ransomware hackers who operate with impunity within Russia’s borders. Ransomware has become a significant problem in the United States. Recent ransomware attacks briefly hobbled the Colonial Pipeline, shutting down the country’s largest fuel pipeline for five days, and JBS, one of the country’s largest meat suppliers. The majority of the most prolific ransomware gangs are believed to operate in Eastern Europe, and Russia in particular. Ukraine’s cyber police announced they had arrested six people involved with Cl0p, and seized a number of computers, cars and about 5 million Ukrainian hryvnia ($185,000) in cash.

Here’s why I am cynical about this. This is one of dozens of gangs that buy and use ransomware software. The timing might not be a coincidence though. The best that I can perhaps see coming out of this is that at most it’s a warning to the other gangs that they could be next. But only if cops follow up and bust more gangs. We’ll have to wait to see if this is or isn’t anything more than a flash in the pan.

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