Man linked to multi-million dollar ransomware attacks gets 66 months in prison for online fraud

"Ransomware thieves are not safe in any dark corner of the internet," says US Secret Service.

Ransomware is a big cybersecurity problem: Why and what needs to be done to stop it?

An Estonian man connected to multi-million dollar ransomware attacks has received a five-and-a-half-year jail sentence for his involvement in online fraud schemes.

The US Department of Justice says Maksim Berezan, a 37-year-old from Estonia, took part in at least 13 ransomware attacks, including seven against American businesses, which cost victims over $53 million in losses. 

Berezan was an active member of an online forum designed for Russian-speaking cyber criminals to gather and exchange their criminal knowledge, tools, and services, the DoJ said.

SEE: Cybersecurity: Let's get tactical (ZDNet special report)   

Berezan was arrested in Latvia in November 2020 and extradited to the US where he pleaded guilty in April 2021 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud affecting a financial institution and conspiracy to commit access device fraud and computer intrusions. 

Following his arrest, police searched Berezan, investigated his computers and found evidence of his involvement in ransomware attacks, with $11 million in ransom payments flowing through cryptocurrency wallets he owned. 

According to court documents, he used the money made from cybercrime to buy two Porsches and a Ducati motorcycle, along with an assortment of jewelry. Authorities confiscated $200,000 in cash from Berezan's home, along with cryptocurrency wallets holding $1.7 million in Bitcoin. 

The Eastern District of Virginia sentenced Berezan to 66 months in prison and he's been ordered to pay $36 million in restitution. 

"Ransomware thieves are not safe in any dark corner of the internet in which they may think they can hide from our highly trained investigators and law enforcement partners worldwide," said special agent in charge Matthew Stohler of the US Secret Service. 

"Together with our critical partners we are dedicated to protecting the public and securing every iteration of our money and every part of our national financial infrastructure." 

The US Department of Justice worked with the Latvian State Police and Estonian Police to help obtain the conviction. 

"Cybercrime has become increasingly more sophisticated, but so have our methods for combatting it," said US Attorney Jessica D. Aber for the Eastern District of Virginia.  

"Ransomware attacks are devastating to people and organizations alike, and we have honed our strategies and techniques to target both the individual actors who perpetrate these attacks and the networks that support them," she added.

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