BERLIN — German police said today that they have disrupted an international cybercrime gang which has been blackmailing large companies and institutions for years, raking in millions of euros.
Working with law enforcement partners including Europol, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and authorities in Ukraine, police in Duesseldorf said they were able to identify 11 individuals linked to a group that has operated in various guises since at least 2010.
Among its most prominent victims was Duesseldorf University Hospital, whose computers were infected with a type of ransomware known as DoppelPaymer in 2020. A woman who needed urgent treatment died after she had to be taken to another city for treatment.
Dirk Kunze, who heads the cybercrime department with North Rhine-Westphalia state police, said at least 601 victims have been identified worldwide, including 37 in Germany. Europol said victims in the United States paid out at least 40 million euros ($42.5 million) to the gang between May 2019 and March 2021.
The group specialized in “big game hunting,” said Kunze, and ran a professional recruitment operation, luring new members with the promise of paid vacation and asking applicants to submit references for past cybercrimes.
He said police conducted simultaneous raids in Germany and Ukraine on Feb. 28, seizing evidence and detaining several suspects. Three further suspects — two of them Russian citizens — could not be apprehended as they were beyond the reach of European law enforcement, Kunze said.