The Russian government today handed down a treason conviction and 14-year prison sentence on Iyla Sachkov, the former founder and CEO of one of Russia’s largest cybersecurity firms. Sachkov, 37, has been detained for nearly two years under charges that the Kremlin has kept classified and hidden from public view, and he joins a growing roster of former Russian cybercrime fighters who are now serving hard time for farcical treason convictions.
It’s nice when ransomware gangs have their bitcoin stolen, malware servers shut down, or are otherwise forced to disband. We hang on to these occasional victories because history tells us that most ransomware moneymaking collectives don’t go away so much as reinvent themselves under a new name, with new rules, targets and weaponry. Indeed, some of the most destructive and costly ransomware groups are now in their third incarnation over as many years.
Reinvention is a basic survival skill in the cybercrime business. Among the oldest tricks in the book is to fake one’s demise or retirement and invent a new identity. A key goal of such subterfuge is to throw investigators off the scent or to temporarily direct their attention elsewhere.
Cybercriminal syndicates also perform similar disappearing acts whenever it suits them. These organizational reboots are an opportunity for ransomware program leaders to set new ground rules for their members — such as which types of victims aren’t allowed (e.g., hospitals, governments, critical infrastructure), or how much of a ransom payment an affiliate should expect for bringing the group access to a new victim network.
Aleksei Burkov, an ultra-connected Russian hacker once described as “an asset of supreme importance” to Moscow, has pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to running a site that sold stolen payment card data and to administering a highly secretive crime forum that counted among its members some of the most elite Russian cybercrooks.
The U.S. Justice Department this month offered a $5 million bounty for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a Russian man indicted for allegedly orchestrating a vast, international cybercrime network that called itself “Evil Corp” and stole roughly $100 million from businesses and consumers. As it happens, for several years KrebsOnSecurity closely monitored the day-to-day communications and activities of the accused and his accomplices. What follows is an insider’s look at the back-end operations of this gang.