Russia starts playing by the rules: FSB busts 14 REvil ransomware suspects

Cybercrook gang has 'ceased to exist' says Putin's military service

Russia's internal security agency said today it had dismantled the REvil ransomware gang's networks and raided its operators' homes following arrests yesterday in Ukraine.

In a statement the FSB (Federal Security Service) said "based on the appeal of the US competent authorities" it had raided 25 addresses apparently belonging to "14 members of an organised criminal community."

That "community" is called REvil, said the Russian law enforcement agency. A translation of the FSB statement reveals that the 14 were charged under Article 187 of the Russian criminal code, which deals with "illegal turnover of means of payments."

"As a result of joint actions of the FSB and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia, the organized criminal community has ceased to exist, and the information infrastructure used for criminal purposes has been neutralized," concluded a triumphant FSB.

The raids come amid a wave of website defacements in Ukraine this morning and after months of US pleading following ransomware gangs making vast sums of money by attacking Western targets and encrypting their IT infrastructure. Only yesterday five ransomware suspects were arrested in Ukraine, though their gang affiliations were not revealed by local police.

It seems unlikely that Russian members of REvil will be extradited to the US to stand trial. Then again, maybe few expected Russia to arrest ransomware gang members before today.

Joseph Carson, chief security scientist at ThycoticCentrify, told The Register: "Many hackers around the world are using their skills for good and this includes government hackers who work vigorously to defend society from cybercrime, so targeting REvil will likely be a statement that governments will work together to stop cybercriminals at the source."

Last summer US president Joe Biden asked his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to put "certain critical infrastructure… off limits" to ransomware gangs.

A few weeks after that summit the two leaders agreed to take coordinated action, with scepticism running high at the time. Seemingly supporting that scepticism, a two-day cybersecurity summit in October focusing on ransomware took place without Russia attending.

Kev Breen, director of cyber threat research at Immersive Labs, opined that there's more to this than meets the eye.

"The most interesting thing about these arrests is the timing. For years, Russian government policy on cybercriminals has been less than proactive to say the least – so such action needs to be evaluated in the wider geopolitical context. With Russia and the US currently at the diplomatic table, these arrests are likely part of a far wider, multi-layered, political negotiation."

So who are REvil?

REvil (aka Sodinokibi) has been one of the most notorious ransomware gangs in history. Having targeted everything from US nuclear weapons contractors to MSPs such as Kaseya to British VOIP providers, the high-profile extortion operation would have been busted ten times over had it been based anywhere but Russia.

Money (in the form of cryptocurrency) stolen by ransomware gangs was spent in Russia, with gang members flaunting their ill-gotten wealth through flash cars, homes, and consumer goods.

Trend Micro said REvil's ransomware, known as Sodinokibi, was first detected in April 2019 being delivered through the same mechanisms used for the old GandCrab ransomware, itself only dating to 2018. The ransomware was first reported on El Reg in May 2019 after Cisco Talos saw it exploiting a vuln in Oracle's WebLogic product.

Since then the gang shot to infamy, using the double-extortion method (pay once for decryption of your forcibly encrypted files, pay again to prevent copies being distributed to others) and cryptocurrencies to make millions from unsuspecting victims – helped, in part, by its affiliate structure and willingness to target anyone, insincere promises at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic notwithstanding.

The Russians' precise reasons for targeting REvil and not any of the other gangs operating from its turf are not yet known, though it seems likely given the state of Russo-US diplomatic relations that American concessions may have played a part. Given the FSB's boasts that REvil's infrastructure has been shut down completely, following an FBI-led operation in July 2021, it may be that law enforcement wanted to send a long overdue message to other domestic cybercrooks. ®


Footage published by the state-affiliated TASS information agency appears to show FSB heavies sitting on men in boxer shorts, later talking at their handcuffed captive. It also shows a staged door-kicking-in operation, where an obviously unlocked apartment door swings open amid an excited stampede, only to reveal a line of pre-arrested people sitting on the floor. This sort of comedy footage is a regular feature of ex-Soviet states' law enforcement PR.

Narrower topics

Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022