subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now

London/Washington — An international law enforcement operation led by Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) and the FBI has arrested and indicted members of the Lockbit ransomware gang, in an unprecedented police operation that has struck one of the world's most notorious cybercrime gangs.

The US unsealed an indictment on Tuesday charging two Russian nationals with deploying Lockbit ransomware against companies and groups around the world, the department of justice announced.

The indictment was made public as the NCA, US department of justice, FBI and Europol gathered in London to announce the disruption of the gang, which has targeted more than 2,000 victims worldwide, received more than $120m in ransom payments and demanded hundreds of millions of dollars, the department of justice said.

Britain’s National Crime Agency Cyber Division, with the US department of justice, the FBI and other law enforcement seized control of websites used by Lockbit in a rare international operation, the gang and US and UK authorities said.

“We have taken control of their infrastructure, seized their source code and obtained keys that will help victims decrypt their systems,” Graeme Biggar, director-general of the National Crime Agency, told journalists.

The law enforcement operation, dubbed “Operation Cronos” was an international coalition of 10 countries, he said. “Together, we have arrested, indicted or sanctioned some of the perpetrators and we have gained unprecedented and comprehensive access to Lockbit’s systems. As of today, Lockbit is effectively redundant. Lockbit has been locked out”.

Obtained in New Jersey, the unsealed indictment charges Artur Sungatov and Ivan Kondratyev, also known as Bassterlord, with using Lockbit ransomware to target victims in manufacturing, logistics, insurance and other companies in five states and Puerto Rico, as well as in semiconductor and other industries around the world.

Additional criminal charges against Kondratyev were unsealed on Tuesday related to his use of ransomware in 2020 against a victim in California, the justice department said. In addition to the US indictments, police in Poland and Ukraine also made two arrests, Europol deputy executive director operations Jean-Philippe Lecouffe told reporters.

“An unprecedented amount of data gathered from this investigation is now in the hands of law enforcement,” he said.

Lockbit and its affiliates have hacked some of the world’s largest organisations in recent months. The gang makes money by stealing sensitive data and threatening to leak it if victims fail to pay a ransom. Its affiliates are like-minded criminal groups that Lockbit recruits to wage attacks using its digital extortion tools. Ransomware is malicious software that encrypts data. Lockbit makes money by coercing its targets into paying ransom to decrypt or unlock that data with a digital key.

Before it was taken down, Lockbit’s website displayed an ever-growing gallery of victim organisations that was updated nearly daily. Next to their names were digital clocks that showed the number of days left to the deadline given to each organisation to provide ransom payment.

On Tuesday, the Lockbit leak website had been transformed by the NCA, FBI and Europol into a leak site about the criminal gang itself, onto which international police agencies published internal data from inside the group, and countdown clocks threatening to reveal upcoming sanctions and the identity of Lockbit’s ringleader, “LockbitSupp”.

A representative for Lockbit did not respond to messages from Reuters seeking comment but did post messages on an encrypted messaging app saying it had backup servers not affected by the law enforcement action.


subscribe Support our award-winning journalism. The Premium package (digital only) is R30 for the first month and thereafter you pay R129 p/m now ad-free for all subscribers.
Subscribe now

Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.