[German]Law enforcement officials have seized and shut down, in an international collaboration, VPN services that provided safe havens for cybercriminals. The VPN services were used to conduct ransomware attacks, web skimming operations, spearphishing and account takeovers.
The Safe-Inet virtual private network (VPN), which was used by cybercriminals from around the world, has been shut down as of Dec. 21, 2020, in a coordinated law enforcement operation led by Germany's Reutlingen police headquarters along with Europol and law enforcement agencies from around the world. Europol made the announcement in a message regarding the seizure. The domains in question now show the following seizure message.
The safe-net service was shut down and its infrastructure seized in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, France, and the United States. ZDNet has named here the three seized domains insorg.org , safe-inet.com , and also safe-inet.net. The servers were shut down and the splash page shown above, created by Europol, was put online after the domain seizures. This coordinated takedown was conducted as part of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT).
Putting a stop to the criminals
Safe-Inet was active for over a decade and was used by some of the world's biggest cybercriminals, including, for example, ransomware gangs responsible for ransomware, e-skimming breaches and other forms of serious cybercrime. Operators sold the VPN service to cyber criminals as one of the best available tools to avoid law enforcement wiretaps at a high price because the VPN service offered up to 5 layers of anonymous VPN connections.
Law enforcement agencies were able to identify about 250 companies worldwide that were spied on by the criminals using this VPN. These companies were then warned of an impending ransomware attack on their systems so that they could take measures to protect themselves from such an attack.
International police cooperation was central to the success of this seizure, as the critical infrastructure was scattered around the world. The Chief of Police of the Reutlingen Police Headquarters, Udo Vogel, said:
The investigations of our cybercrime specialists have led to such success thanks to the excellent international cooperation with partners worldwide. The results show that law enforcement agencies are as well connected as the criminals.
Here is the list of law enforcement agencies involved:
- Germany: Reutlingen Police Headquarters (Reutlingen).
- The Netherlands: National Police (Politie)
- Switzerland: Cantonal Police (Kantonspolizei Aargau)
- United States: Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI
- France: Judicial Police (Direction Centrale de la Police Judiciaire)
- Europol: European Cybercrime Centre (EC3)
Investigations are underway in a number of countries to identify and take action against some of the safe-net users.
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