U.S. and U.K. authorities have seized the darknet websites run by LockBit, a prolific and destructive ransomware group that has claimed more than 2,000 victims worldwide and extorted over $120 million in payments. Instead of listing data stolen from ransomware victims who didn’t pay, LockBit’s victim shaming website now offers free recovery tools, as well as news about arrests and criminal charges involving LockBit affiliates.
Dubbed “Operation Cronos,” the law enforcement action involved the seizure of nearly three-dozen servers; the arrest of two alleged LockBit members; the unsealing of two indictments; the release of a free LockBit decryption tool; and the freezing of more than 200 cryptocurrency accounts thought to be tied to the gang’s activities.
LockBit members have executed attacks against thousands of victims in the United States and around the world, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). First surfacing in September 2019, the gang is estimated to have made hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars in ransom demands, and extorted over $120 million in ransom payments.
LockBit operated as a ransomware-as-a-service group, wherein the ransomware gang takes care of everything from the bulletproof hosting and domains to the development and maintenance of the malware. Meanwhile, affiliates are solely responsible for finding new victims, and can reap 60 to 80 percent of any ransom amount ultimately paid to the group.
A statement on Operation Cronos from the European police agency Europol said the months-long infiltration resulted in the compromise of LockBit’s primary platform and other critical infrastructure, including the takedown of 34 servers in the Netherlands, Germany, Finland, France, Switzerland, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. Europol said two suspected LockBit actors were arrested in Poland and Ukraine, but no further information has been released about those detained.
The DOJ today unsealed indictments against two Russian men alleged to be active members of LockBit. The government says Russian national Artur Sungatov used LockBit ransomware against victims in manufacturing, logistics, insurance and other companies throughout the United States.
Ivan Gennadievich Kondratyev, a.k.a. “Bassterlord,” allegedly deployed LockBit against targets in the United States, Singapore, Taiwan, and Lebanon. Kondratyev is also charged (PDF) with three criminal counts arising from his alleged use of the Sodinokibi (aka “REvil“) ransomware variant to encrypt data, exfiltrate victim information, and extort a ransom payment from a corporate victim based in Alameda County, California.
With the indictments of Sungatov and Kondratyev, a total of five LockBit affiliates now have been officially charged. In May 2023, U.S. authorities unsealed indictments against two alleged LockBit affiliates, Mikhail “Wazawaka” Matveev and Mikhail Vasiliev.
Vasiliev, 35, of Bradford, Ontario, Canada, is in custody in Canada awaiting extradition to the United States (the complaint against Vasiliev is at this PDF). Matveev remains at large, presumably still in Russia. In January 2022, KrebsOnSecurity published Who is the Network Access Broker ‘Wazawaka,’ which followed clues from Wazawaka’s many pseudonyms and contact details on the Russian-language cybercrime forums back to a 31-year-old Mikhail Matveev from Abaza, RU.
In June 2023, Russian national Ruslan Magomedovich Astamirov was charged in New Jersey for his participation in the LockBit conspiracy, including the deployment of LockBit against victims in Florida, Japan, France, and Kenya. Astamirov is currently in custody in the United States awaiting trial.
LockBit was known to have recruited affiliates that worked with multiple ransomware groups simultaneously, and it’s unclear what impact this takedown may have on competing ransomware affiliate operations. The security firm ProDaft said on Twitter/X that the infiltration of LockBit by investigators provided “in-depth visibility into each affiliate’s structures, including ties with other notorious groups such as FIN7, Wizard Spider, and EvilCorp.”
In a lengthy thread about the LockBit takedown on the Russian-language cybercrime forum XSS, one of the gang’s leaders said the FBI and the U.K.’s National Crime Agency (NCA) had infiltrated its servers using a known vulnerability in PHP, a scripting language that is widely used in Web development. Continue reading