Ex-government IT worker collaborated with Russian cyber gang

A former Canadian government IT employee has pleaded guilty to charges related to his association with Russian cybercrime gang NetWalker.

NetWalker started operations in 2019 and provides malicious software and extortion websites to affiliated hackers.

Under a plea agreement [pdf] filed in a Florida court on Tuesday, Sebastien Vachon-Desjardins agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud; conspiracy to commit computer fraud; intentional damage to a secure computer system; and sending a request regarding the corruption of a protected computer.

Vachon-Desjardins, 34 and from Quebec, was previously sentenced to seven years in prison by a Canadian court for other ransomware attacks.

He was arrested in Canada in January 2021 and extradited to the United States in March this year, following an investigation of the NetWalker group by US federal agencies.

U.S. law enforcement shut down the group’s Web activities and discovered a database of affiliated information.

Vachon-Desjardins has been held in a prison in Tampa since his extradition.

He admitted in a Florida court that he was a member of the NetWalker group, which has targeted businesses, organizations, government agencies, hospitals and schools in Canada, the US and other countries.

Vachon-Desjardins also agreed to lose $21.5 million, about 27.65 BTC and dozens of seized devices.

At the time of Vachon-Desjardins’ arrest in Canada, police seized CAD $790,000 in cash, 719 Bitcoin worth approximately $27 million (£22 million), and a number of computers and storage devices from his home.

According to US court records, the Canadian was one of NetWalker’s most active partners. He embarked on a cyber disaster between April and December 2020, targeting 17 Canadian companies and several others around the world.

He attacked a Tampa-based company on May 1, 2020 and sent it a ransom note demanding $300,000 in Bitcoin. The company chose not to pay and instead spent $1.2 million on incident response.

The Department of Justice successfully accessed the NetWalker Tor Panel’s backend server and the NetWalker Blog, providing a glimpse into the organization’s operations.

According to US authorities, the organization forced victims to pay about 5,058 Bitcoin. Depending on the price of Bitcoin at the time of each transaction, that equaled nearly $40 million.

The FBI issued a security advisory in August 2020 regarding attacks by Netwalker targeting government agencies in the US and other countries.

In September 2020, the gang attacked the university clinic of Düsseldorf, leading to the death of a patient.

Vachon-Desjardins previously worked as an IT consultant for the Public Works and Government Services Departments in Canada.

On his LinkedIn page, he claims to have experience responding to cybersecurity breaches

He will be convicted at a later date and face up to 10 years in prison for his crime.

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