International Ransomware Ring Busted After PA Prosecutor's Office Pays Ransom

By George Khoury, Esq. on December 12, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Last week, the Department of Justice announced that an international ransomware and hacking operation, which hit a Pennsylvania county's district attorney's office for a $1,400 ransom, had been shut down. The bust happened as a result of a coordinated effort between 40 nations as the cybercrime operation had a worldwide impact. The DOJ announced that arrests were made in four separate countries and dozens of servers that hosted the malicious programs were shut down.

The Pennsylvania county district attorney's office was infected because a single employee clicked on a link in a phishing email that the employee believed to be from another legitimate government agency. The one click led to the office's files being locked until a bitcoin ransom was paid. The Pennsylvania prosecutors traced their hack back to Australia. Other victims of these attacks have had their computers taken over, and have had sensitive banking data stolen, leading to theft through illegal wire fraud.

Six Years, 500,000 Infected Computers

German authorities initially began investigating this operation four years ago, with the United States joining in two years ago. Over the past six years, this ring has affected an estimated half-million computers worldwide and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in harm.

While the arrests have been on foreign soil, the United States Attorney's Office is bringing charges. Individuals or businesses that have been targeted may want to pay close attention to the case progress as they may be able to apply to a victims' compensation fund down the road.

If you believe you may have been infected, you can visit the Department of Homeland Security's Computer Emergency Readiness Team page to learn more.

Criminal Penalties for Hacking

The Department of Justice has numerous federal statutes to prosecute computer crimes. For example, hackers can be prosecuted for wiretapping and wire fraud. If found guilty of wiretapping, the penalty can include prison terms of five years per violation. A single act of wire fraud could lead to 20 years in prison.

Many federal hacking statutes are found in 18 U.S. Code Section 1030, which prohibits everything from trafficking in passwords to damaging a computer. In addition to federal laws against hacking, individual states also have their own laws, such as identity theft laws

If you are facing a hacking charge, you should contact a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.

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