Seven Russian nationals have been sanctioned by the UK and US over their links to the development and deployment of ransomware, as part of a Government crackdown on cyber criminals.
The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said asset freezes and travel bans had been imposed on the seven individuals for their ties to strains of ransomware which had been used to attack UK infrastructure, and others internationally.
Ransomware is a form of cyber attack that locks files and data on a user’s computer and demands payment in order for them to be released back to the owner and has been used as part of a number of high-profile cyber attacks in recent years, including the 2017 attack on the NHS.
The FCDO said recent victims of this type of cybercrime included UK schools and local authorities, while the National Crime Agency (NCA) had identified 149 British victims who had been affected by strains of ransomware linked to the sanctioned individuals and was responsible for extricating at least an estimated £27 million.
“By sanctioning these cyber criminals, we are sending a clear signal to them and others involved in ransomware that they will be held to account,” Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said.
“These cynical cyber attacks cause real damage to people’s lives and livelihoods.
“We will always put our national security first by protecting the UK and our allies from serious organised crime – whatever its form and wherever it originates.”
The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) said it has assessed that key members of ransomware groups linked to the sanctioned individuals were likely to have ties to the Russian Intelligence services and had taken actions and targeted certain organisations which aligned them with Russian state objectives.
“We’re targeting cyber criminals who have been involved in some of the most prolific and damaging forms of ransomware,” Security Minister Tom Tugendhat said.
“Ransomware criminals have hit hospitals and schools, hurt many and disrupted lives, at great expense to the taxpayer.
“Cyber crime knows no boundaries and threatens our national security. These sanctions identify and expose those responsible.”
NCSC chief executive Lindy Cameron has previously called ransomware the key cyber threat facing the UK, and she echoed that warning as she urged firms to take action to prevent themselves from attack.
“Ransomware is the most acute cyber threat facing the UK, and attacks by criminal groups show just how devastating its impact can be,” she said.
“The NCSC is working with partners to bear down on ransomware attacks and those responsible, helping to prevent incidents and improve our collective resilience.
“It is vital organisations take immediate steps to limit their risk by following the NCSC’s advice on how to put robust defences in place to protect their networks.”
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