Two Iranian men have been charged with deploying a sinister type of ransomware that crippled the operations of hospitals, municipalities, public institutions, and other critical networks in the United States and Canada, officials from the Department of Justice and the FBI announced last Wednesday, November 28th, 2018.
Beginning in 2015 and continuing until September 2018, SamSam ransomware infiltrated computer networks in Atlanta, Newark, and San Diego, as well as those of major health care providers, the University of Calgary, and others. Once deployed, the malware encrypted data and files. The creators then demanded payment by virtual currency to restore access to affected systems, a crime Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski called “21st century blackmail.”
The toll of these cyberattacks was staggering: more than 230 entities infected, $6 million in ransom payments extorted, and an estimated $30 billion in damages to the affected public and private institutions.
“The actions highlighted today, which represent a continuing trend of cyber criminal activity emanating from Iran, were particularly threatening, as they targeted public safety institutions, including U.S. hospital systems and governmental entities,” said Amy Hess, executive assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch. “As cyber threats evolve and cyber criminals develop more sophisticated techniques, so do we.”
The case was investigated through a coordinated international effort between the FBI, the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency and West Yorkshire Police, and Canada’s Calgary Police Service and Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Significant assistance was provided by the Justice Department’s National Security Division and the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs. The courage and the cooperation of the ransomware victims was also key to the successful investigation.
“Through our valued partnerships, not just with our great law enforcement partners in the U.S. and abroad but with our partners in private industry and with the victims of these crimes, we will find criminals and hold them accountable,” said Hess. “Through persistence and collaboration, we will disrupt not only the criminal activity but also the ill-gotten livelihood of these actors.”