- A former Canadian government employee has been extradited to the United States, with more than $28 Million in Bitcoin seized in connection with the case.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Sebastien Vachon-Desjardins worked as an IT consultant for Public Works and Government Services in Canada. He was extradited to the United States on Wednesday, where he will face multiple charges related to his alleged involvement with the NetWalker ransomware group, according to the US Justice Department.
NetWalker, also known as “Mailto,” is a well-known ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) business that uses affiliates to distribute ransomware in exchange for a portion of the ransom money. Since its inception in 2019, the group has been linked to a number of high-profile attacks. The organization targeted the University of California, San Francisco, in June 2020, and the university paid a ransom of more than $1 million. NetWalker targeted a cyber threat startup, Cygilant, three months later.
During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the RaaS operation also targeted Argentina’s immigration agency, Pakistan’s largest private power utility, and a number of hospitals and law enforcement agencies. According to cryptocurrency analysis firm Chainalysis, ransomware operations involving NetWalker raked in $46 million in extortion payments between August 2019 and January 2021.
In January 2021, Vachon-Desjardins was apprehended by Canadian authorities as part of an international law enforcement operation aimed at the NetWalker ransomware organization. Officers discovered 719 bitcoin, worth around $28.1 million at the time of writing, and $790,000 in Canadian money during a search of his house in Quebec. The dark web site used by NetWalker to post data taken from victims was also seized by authorities in the United States and Belgium.
Vachon-Desjardins was sentenced to seven years in jail in a Canadian court at the time after pleading guilty to five offences including computer data theft, extortion, payment of cryptocurrency ransoms, and participation in criminal operations.
Vachon-Desjardins now faces additional allegations, including conspiracy to commit computer fraud and wire fraud, deliberate damage to a protected computer, and conveying a demand in relation to damaging a protected computer, now that he is in the United States.
For his involvement with the NetWalker ransomware gang, he may face a fine of more than $27 million if convicted.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr. said that as evidenced by their Canadian allies’ seizure of cryptocurrencies, they will pursue seizure and forfeiture of the alleged proceeds of ransomware, whether domestically or internationally. The department will not stop pursuing and seizing cryptocurrency ransoms, defeating ransomware actors’ attempts to elude law enforcement through the use of cryptocurrencies.
Vachon’s News- Desjardins’ extradition comes only days after a member of the REvil ransomware organization was apprehended and sent to Texas to face federal charges in connection with the Kaseya hack.