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Russia-linked REvil hackers hit with arrests by US, allies | News

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WASHINGTON xe2x80x94 After vowing for months to crack down on ransomware, the Biden administration and allied countries unleashed a string of actions Monday against one of the most prolific hacking groups and also issued sanctions against cryptocurrency entities that allegedly enable such attacks.

European authorities announced that police in Romania and South Korea had arrested five people allegedly associated with the Russia-linked ransomware group commonly known as REvil or Sodinokibi. In the U.S., a Ukrainian national, Yaroslav Vasinkyi, and a Russian national, Yevgeniy Polyanin, were indicted for alleged involvement in REvil ransomware attacks, according to Justice Department court documents unsealed Monday in Dallas.

xe2x80x9cTogether with our partners, the Justice Department is sparing no resource to identify and bring to justice anyone, anywhere, who targets the United States with a ransomware attack,xe2x80x9d Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a news conference in Washington. xe2x80x9cThe U.S. government will continue to aggressively pursue the entire ransomware ecosystem and increase our nationxe2x80x99s resilience to cyberthreats.xe2x80x9d

While the arrests and associated actions demonstrate a significant capability of governments to disrupt hackers, it remained unclear how much of an impact theyxe2x80x99ll have on preventing future ransomware attacks. Cybersecurity experts warn that hackers operate in loosely affiliated groups, often in countries like Russia where they can evade law enforcement.

Jon DiMaggio, chief security strategist at Analyst1, said the indictments can be important in slowing down groups like REvil. xe2x80x9cBut at the end of the day, there is no shortage of hackers for hire that want to make money by getting in with these guys,xe2x80x9d he said.

xe2x80x9cMaybe theyxe2x80x99ll think for a second longer before they join, if therexe2x80x99s law enforcement action against a specific group. Time will tell,xe2x80x9d he said. xe2x80x9cBut criminals are criminals. Theyxe2x80x99re generally not afraid of law enforcement.xe2x80x9d

In Washington, the Treasury Department announced actions intended to disrupt ransomware attacks and the virtual currency exchanges that launder the illicit proceeds. The State Department offered a reward of as much as $10 million for information leading to the identification or location of REvilxe2x80x99s leaders and as much as $5 million for information leading to the arrest or conviction of individuals who participated in attacks involving REvilxe2x80x99s malware.

xe2x80x9cREvil,xe2x80x9d short for xe2x80x9cRansomware-Evil,xe2x80x9d is known as one of the worldxe2x80x99s most infamous ransomware gangs. The group is accused of staging several attacks this year against major companies and organizations, including Brazilian meat supplier JBS SA and Miami-based technology company Kaseya. JBS paid an $11 million ransom, while Kaseya said it declined to pay the hackers.

In ransomware attacks, hackers encrypt a victimxe2x80x99s files and then demand payment to unlock them. Reported ransomware payments in the U.S. reached $590 million in the first half of 2021, compared with a total of $416 million in a 2020, according to the Treasury Department.

Following a string of high-profile attacks, President Joe Biden vowed to make curbing ransomware a priority for his administration. At a June summit, he warned his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, that Russian hackers should steer clear of 16 critical sectors of the US. economy. Last month, his administration enlisted more than 30 countries in an effort to curb ransomware.

On Monday, Biden said he was following through on his promise to Putin.

xe2x80x9cWe are bringing the full strength of the federal government to disrupt malicious cyber activity and actors, bolster resilience at home, address the abuse of virtual currency to launder ransom payments, and leverage international cooperation to disrupt the ransomware ecosystem and address safe harbors for ransomware criminals,xe2x80x9d Biden said in a statement.

The arrests by European and South Korean law enforcement involved so-called REvil affiliates. Ransomware groups often provide their malware to others, called affiliates, who then target victims and pay the group a cut of the illicit proceeds. Europol said that law enforcement agencies had identified the alleged affiliates of REvil after seizing infrastructure used by the group and carrying out investigative methods such as wiretapping.

Romanian authorities arrested two alleged affiliates of the group on Thursday, according to a statement released Monday by European law enforcement agency Europol. A further three arrests of REvil suspects were made earlier this year, Europol said.

The arrests stemmed from an international investigation named GoldDust, which involved law enforcement agencies from 17 countries, including the U.S., the U.K., France and Germany. The alleged hackers are suspected of involvement in about 5,000 ransomware infections and received about half a million Euros ($579,000) in ransom payments.

In the Texas indictments, Vasinskyi and Polyanin were charged with conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering, as well as other computer crimes, in connection with REvil ransomware attacks against several U.S. businesses. Prosecutors allege the two xe2x80x9cknowingly and willfullyxe2x80x9d conspired to intentionally damage computer systems among at least nine firms in seven states.

The Justice Department said Monday it seized $6.1 million in ransom payments tied to Polyanin, and the FBI added a xe2x80x9cwantedxe2x80x9d poster for him to its website.

Polyanin is charged with deploying the first operational version of the Sodinokibi ransomware. He allegedly deployed ransomware on the computer networks of one company and 11 government entities xe2x80x94 tied to multiple municipalities in Texas xe2x80x94 in August 2019, according to court filings. Polyanin allegedly hacked into the network of an unnamed company and then deployed ransomware on its customerxe2x80x99s networks.

Vasinskyi was arrested after traveling to Poland. In December 2019, he allegedly sent a message on a criminal forum to xe2x80x9cUnknown,xe2x80x9d who is believed to be a representative of the REvil ransomware gang. xe2x80x9cHello, this is rabotnik,xe2x80x9d Vasinskyi wrote, according to the court filings. xe2x80x9cI want to return to work.xe2x80x9d Vasinskyixe2x80x99s alleged targets included Kaseya, the Florida based software developer. Prosecutors said the victims in Vasinskyixe2x80x99s attacks have paid more than $2 million in combined ransom.

The government alleges that Vasinskyi and other conspirators authored and deployed the malicious software on computer systems since April 2019. Prosecutors say the attackers infected computers using a swath of tricks, including sending out phishing emails, using compromised remote desktop passwords and exploiting vulnerabilities in software code.

Mondayxe2x80x99s actions include the designation of Chatex, a virtual currency exchange, and its associated support network, for facilitating financial transactions for ransomware actors. Chatex, which claims to have a presence in multiple countries, has facilitated transactions for multiple ransomware variants, according to the Treasury Department. Analysis of Chatexxe2x80x99s known transactions indicate that over half are directly traced to illicit or high-risk activities such as dark net markets, high-risk exchanges, and ransomware.

Law enforcement authorities used the new conference to encourage other companies to quickly report attacks to law enforcement, as Kaseya did, and to praise other countries that aided in the effort. FBI Director Christopher Wray said that the arrests show xe2x80x9cwhatxe2x80x99s possible when federal law enforcement and international law enforcement work together with private sector companies.xe2x80x9d

When asked by a reporter, Garland declined to say whether the Russian government condoned or was aware of the actions taken against the hackers.













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The FBI Has Been Political From The Star : NPR

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n The 1936 film You Can’t Get Away With It about the FBI portrays a typical G-man of the era, complete with machine gun.n n n n APn n nhide captionn

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The 1936 film You Can’t Get Away With It about the FBI portrays a typical G-man of the era, complete with machine gun.

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Recent FBI investigations relevant to the 2016 presidential election have become the latest battleground in our deeply divided and partisan politics.

Some Republicans, disappointed by the lack of charges over Hillary Clinton’s emails and distressed by the continuing probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, suddenly perceive corruption in the FBI. Democrats counter that the casting of doubt on the nation’s top national law enforcement agency is an unprecedented outrage.

Everyone agrees that the FBI should be as professional and impartial as possible and that its investigations should not be driven by any political agenda or vendetta. That has always been the ideal.

But various parties to the current imbroglio have been suggesting that somehow this is the first time the bureau may have fallen short of that ideal xe2x80x94 or even been accused of doing so, rightly or wrongly.

Surely there is a massive case of collective amnesia afflicting Washington and much of the media commentariat on that score.

The fact is, controversy about the FBI is anything but new xe2x80x94 and achieving political goals of one kind or another have been part of the reason for the FBI since its inception.

Still, the “this is not normal” narrative is strong, and it is also coming from within the FBI community itself.

Chris Swecker, who finished his 24-year bureau career as an acting assistant director, told NPR’s Ryan Lucas this week that “there’s been plenty of controversies, but never accusations that the FBI has become a political tool for one party or another, or one set of political beliefs or another.”

Never? Really?

In his defense, Swecker’s FBI tenure coincided almost exactly with that of Louis Freeh, Robert Mueller and James Comey, the directors of the agency from 1993 to last May. In these years, under these men, the FBI has been arguably less politicized and less of a political tool than at any time in its 109-year history.

But to use the word “never” when discussing the history of the FBI’s service to a political party or to a set of political beliefs is to invite not only disbelief, but also bitter derision.

Political since its inception


n In 1969, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover presents a gold badge to President Richard Nixon, making him an honorary member of the agency, during graduation ceremonies for the FBI National Academy.n n n n Anonymous/APn n nhide captionn

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In 1969, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover presents a gold badge to President Richard Nixon, making him an honorary member of the agency, during graduation ceremonies for the FBI National Academy.

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As a matter of reality, the FBI has been political from its outset. While it has always had an ethos of professionalism and objectivity and devotion to law, the people in charge of it and the people in charge of the administrations under which it has served have been as political and as partisan as it is possible to be.

One could say the idea of a federal agency that conducts criminal investigations has been political by definition, practically from its inception.

Let’s talk about Teddy Roosevelt for a moment. He started the precursor agency called the Bureau of Investigation way back in 1908. He did it because he wanted someone to look at the books of some of the country’s largest and most powerful businesses, which he suspected of violating the anti-trust laws meant to rein in the activities of monopolies.

Similarly, when the bureau was tasked with finding German spies during the World War I, it could be called law enforcement xe2x80x94 pure and simple. But what about when it went rounded up and detained citizens who had not yet registered for the draft? Or harassed political radicals of various stripes whom the administration saw as security risks for their unorthodox ideas?

Pursuing Nazis, gangsters, political favors and payback

In the 1920s, the old BOI had a role in the Teapot Dome scandal that would eventually send several officials of President Warren G. Harding’s administration to prison.

But its role was not so much in exposing the oil companies that paid bribes for access to government oil reserves. It was, rather, in investigating a senator who had exposed the scandal. That forced the BOI director of the time to resign, opening the door to a young officer who became the agency’s head in 1924. His name was J. Edgar Hoover.

Thereafter, “the Feds” went after the heavily armed gangsters who sometimes terrorized the countryside and the urban landscape as well. Like the pursuit of spies, this work was broadly popular with the public. Hoover proved effective at demythologizing folk heroes such as Charles “Pretty Boy” Floyd and George “Baby Face” Nelson, as well as at professionalizing the bureau itself. The idea of using a crime lab to solve cases largely began with Hoover’s agency, which added the word “federal” to its name in 1935.

Hoover’s 48 years on the job included not just such popular crusades as rooting out Nazis during World War II but also such errands as collecting the names of people who wrote anti-war or isolationist letters to the White House. Hoover would eventually hold the top job through eight presidencies, doing various political favors for nearly all of them (according to evidence unearthed by a 1975 Senate investigation chaired by Idaho Sen. Frank Church).

During World War II, Hoover’s bureau caught Nazi saboteurs and spies, but it also pursued people of Japanese descent and jailed those who objected. After the war, the bureau was prominent in pursuit of Communists, which came to mean a wide variety of people with divergent views.

And Hoover collaborated with the notorious blunderbuss Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin, whose years of committee hearings wounded many reputations but wound up unmasking no actual Communists.

Plenty of Americans have regarded these uses of the FBI’s resources as entirely legitimate, while plenty of others have found them entirely unacceptable. But you cannot argue they were not political. And in the hands of such figures as McCarthy or Richard Nixon, the FBI most definitely was a tool of one political party.

Rooting out “radicals,” from Communists to war protest and civil rights leaders

Hoover’s passion for rooting out radicals was formalized in what was called COINTELPRO (for counterintelligence program). Aimed originally at the Communist Party, the effort expanded to battle leftists in general and especially leaders of protests against the Vietnam War.


n Hoover hounded Martin Luther King Jr. for years xe2x80x94 at one point sending him tape recordings of his tapped telephone and urging him to commit suicide.n n n n Jim Kerlin/APn n nhide captionn

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Hoover hounded Martin Luther King Jr. for years xe2x80x94 at one point sending him tape recordings of his tapped telephone and urging him to commit suicide.

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The program was also a scourge of the civil rights movement, most prominently Martin Luther King Jr. Hoover had a kind of obsession with King, hounding him for years xe2x80x94 at one point sending him tape recordings of his tapped telephone and urging him to commit suicide.

At largely the same time, under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, the FBI engaged in disruptive tactics against the Ku Klux Klan in the South. But after bloody riots erupted in many U.S. cities in the mid-1960s and later, Hoover turned his focus to “black nationalist” groups such as the Black Panthers, bringing disrepute and sowing dissent in its ranks.

Here again, the FBI was proving its worth to at least one concept of law enforcement even as it showed itself as a dangerous and repressive institution to others. But what one cannot deny was that it became a political tool xe2x80x94 not just repeatedly but continually over many years.

Infamous unverified dossiers

Hoover also used his bureau to compile dossiers on people in government he thought might be security risks. These included hundreds of officials and bureaucrats he thought might be vulnerable to blackmail because they were gay. Hoover compiled mountains of evidence regarding people’s sexual orientation, a store that was eventually destroyed by one of his successors in the 1970s xe2x80x93 after Hoover’s death.

At the same time, thousands of other Americans were able to get access to the files the FBI had kept on them and their activities for decades. Many of these records included totally unproven and unverified accusations included in “raw files” that were not meant for general release but available to various authorities at Hoover’s discretion.

Another occasion of historical significance involving the FBI was the Watergate scandal and subsequent congressional and law enforcement action leading to Nixon’s resignation as president in 1974.

Deep State dxc3xa9jxc3xa0 vu?

Watergate was happening just as the FBI was finally transitioning to a new director. Nixon appointed an outsider named L. Patrick Gray, who lasted less than a year. But during that period, the No. 2 man in the bureau, W. Mark Felt, got wind of various forms of skulduggery practiced by Nixon’s re-election campaign in 1971 and 1972, culminating in the burglary at the Watergate hotel that gave the scandal its name.

Felt managed to convey much of what he learned to a young reporter he knew who worked at The Washington Post. The reporter was Bob Woodward, and the rest is history xe2x80x94 highly politicized history. Those who still defend Nixon today have to contend with the role played by Felt in prompting the congressional and legal proceedings that forced Nixon to resign in 1974.

Perhaps it is that episode in the long history of the bureau that is making some on Capitol Hill and some conservatives in the media uneasy about where the current investigation of Trump’s campaign and cronies could be going. For these individuals, any indication that evidence gathered by the FBI could bring Trump or members of his circle to legal reckoning would be a bad case of dxc3xa9jxc3xa0 vu.

And that is the opposite of unprecedented.

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Jan. 6 panel subpoenas 6 more Trump associates in probe

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Further expanding its probe, the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot has issued subpoenas to six additional associates of former President Donald Trump who were closely involved in his efforts to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election.

WASHINGTON (AP) xe2x80x94 Further expanding its probe, the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection has issued subpoenas to six additional associates of former President Donald Trump who were closely involved in his efforts to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election.

The committeexe2x80x99s chairman, Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, said in a statement Monday that the panel is demanding testimony and documents from former Trump campaign officials and others who participated in a xe2x80x9cwar roomxe2x80x9d ahead of the siege and strategized about how to halt the certification of Joe Bidenxe2x80x99s victory.

Thompson said the committee had issued new subpoenas to Bill Stepien, manager of Trumpxe2x80x99s 2020 reelection campaign; Jason Miller, a senior adviser to the campaign; Angela McCallum, national executive assistant to the campaign; John Eastman, a lawyer who advised the former president; Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser to Trump who talked with Trump ahead of the insurrection; and Bernard Kerik, who the committee says paid for hotel rooms that served as command centers ahead of Jan. 6.

xe2x80x9cIn the days before the January 6th attack, the former presidentxe2x80x99s closest allies and advisers drove a campaign of misinformation about the election and planned ways to stop the count of Electoral College votes,xe2x80x9d Thompson said. xe2x80x9cThe Select Committee needs to know every detail about their efforts to overturn the election, including who they were talking to in the White House and in Congress, what connections they had with rallies that escalated into a riot, and who paid for it all.xe2x80x9d

The subpoenas come after the panel has already demanded documents and testimony from several other Trump advisers xe2x80x94 some who have cooperated and some who have not. The House voted last month to hold longtime Trump ally Steve Bannon in contempt after he refused to comply with his subpoena. Trump himself is fighting the probe in court.

The rioters who violently pushed back police to break into the Capitol and interrupt the electoral count repeated Trumpxe2x80x99s false claims of widespread fraud, and the committee says the six newly subpoenaed witnesses helped amplify the misinformation in the days ahead of the attack. Trumpxe2x80x99s false claims came as election officials and courts across the country verified Bidenxe2x80x99s win, and as his own attorney general said there was no evidence of significant fraud.

Thompson says in the letters to the Trump associates that the panel has uncovered xe2x80x9ccredible evidencexe2x80x9d of their participation in the former presidentxe2x80x99s efforts to overturn the election and cites ways that they individually tried to further his cause.

In Stepienxe2x80x99s subpoena, Thompson cites the testimony of an unnamed witness in saying he oversaw the xe2x80x9cconversionxe2x80x9d of Trumpxe2x80x99s presidential campaign to a xe2x80x9cStop the Stealxe2x80x9d effort. In letters to Miller and McCallum, Thompson cites specific efforts to spread the false claims, including a phone call from McCallum to an unidentified Michigan state legislator asking if the Trump campaign could xe2x80x9ccount onxe2x80x9d them and urging the person to push for the appointment of new state electors.

Thompson detailed several efforts by Eastman, a lawyer and professor, to persuade Vice President Mike Pence to try to overturn the election as he presided over the congressional certification xe2x80x94 a power Pence did not legally have. Thompson also cites Eastmanxe2x80x99s outreach to states, including a briefing to state legislators, and his participation in the so-called xe2x80x9cwar roomxe2x80x9d at the Willard Hotel where he, Bannon, Kerik and others strategized ahead of the siege about how to overturn Trumpxe2x80x99s defeat.

Kerik, a former New York City police commissioner who was pardoned by Trump after serving time in prison for tax fraud and other charges, responded to his subpoena with a lengthy statement on Monday evening. He said that he xe2x80x9cwas not hired to overturn the will of the people, only to look into the integrity of the processxe2x80x9d and that his focus after the election was on xe2x80x9clooking for evidence,xe2x80x9d not public relations.

xe2x80x9cAs to the events of January 6th, I was not involved,xe2x80x9d he said.

The others contacted by The Associated Press did not respond to requests for comment.

In the letter to Flynn xe2x80x94 the former national security adviser who twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and was also pardoned by Trump xe2x80x94 Thompson cited a December Oval Office meeting with the then-president. Citing media reports, Thompson said Flynn and other participants xe2x80x9cdiscussed seizing voting machines, declaring a national emergency, invoking certain national security emergency powers and continuing to spread the message that the Nov. 2020 election had been tainted by widespread fraud.xe2x80x9d

The panel is working with other close Trump advisers to gain testimony, including former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and administration aides Kashyap Patel and Dan Scavino. Members of the committee said they have been xe2x80x9cengagingxe2x80x9d with those witnesses but may move to hold them in contempt, as well, if they donxe2x80x99t comply soon.

Trumpxe2x80x99s own opposition has prompted some of his advisors, including Bannon, to say they canxe2x80x99t speak publicly about their roles. The former presidentxe2x80x99s lawsuit argues that he can assert executive privilege, or a presidential claim to keep some information private, in an effort to block the government from releasing a tranche of internal White House documents to the panel. The committee has argued that privilege doesnxe2x80x99t apply.

President Biden has so far waived executive privilege on nearly all the documents that the committee has asked for, citing the panelxe2x80x99s need to investigate the violent attack.

In his subpoena to Eastman, Thompson sought to preemptively attack any attorney-client privilege that he may attempt to cite to avoid testifying. The letter noted that Eastman has already xe2x80x9cmade extensive public commentsxe2x80x9d regarding his legal advice and direct discussions with Trump.

Former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, who aligned himself with Trumpxe2x80x99s efforts to overturn the election as other department leaders pushed back, appeared for a deposition on Friday but declined to cooperate, presenting the committee with a letter saying he would not answer questions based on Trumpxe2x80x99s assertions of privilege, including in the ongoing court case.

Thompson said afterward that he had rejected the claims of privilege and said Clark xe2x80x9chas a very short timexe2x80x9d to reconsider and cooperate.

The committee has already interviewed more than 150 people across government, social media and law enforcement, including some former Trump aides who have been cooperative. The panel has subpoenaed more than 20 witnesses total, and most of them, including several associates who helped plan the massive xe2x80x9cStop the Stealxe2x80x9d rally the morning of the 6th, have signaled they will cooperate.


Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

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