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Canadian Netwalker ransomware affiliate faces 20 years in prison and $21.5 million fine

The Canadian hacker was arrested in Quebec after a search revealed 719 Bitcoin and hundreds of thousands of Canadian dollars believed to be stolen funds

Sebastien Vachon-Desjardins faces a $21.5 million fine and up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to his affiliate role with the NetWalker ransomware as a Service (RaaS) operation.

The 35-year-old Canadian national, deported from Quebec earlier this year, was convicted on four counts of fraud and conspiracy. 

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The charges levied upon the hacker in a federal court in Florida this week included: conspiracy to commit computer fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, intentional damage to a protected computer, and transmitting a demand in relation to damaging a protected computer

Vachon-Desjardins was a former employee of the Canadian government at the Public Works and Government Services agency and was first arrested on January 27, 2021, in connection with the Russian state-linked NetWalker cyber crime outfit.

Following this initial arrest, he was sentenced by a Canadian judge to more than six years in prison before being extradited to face criminal charges in the US

He is alleged to have obtained at least $27.6 million as a result of his participation in fraud offenses involving NetWalker ransomware between April and December 2020.

The NetWalker ransomware operation extorted tens of millions of US dollars since its inception in 2019, according to the US Department of Justice (DoJ), Affiliates of the operation were tasked with deploying the encryptor payload and received a share of all ransom payments

"The defendant identified and attacked high-value ransomware victims and profited from the chaos caused by encrypting and stealing the victims’ data,” said General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr, assistant attorney of the US DoJ's Criminal Division.

“Today’s sentence demonstrates that ransomware actors will face significant consequences for their crimes and exemplifies the Department’s steadfast commitment to pursuing actors who participate in ransomware schemes.”

The DoJ also said Vachon-Desjardins was personally responsible for attacks on "hundreds of victims in numerous countries".

Vachon-Desjardins was sentenced to a total of 240 months (20 years) in prison and will also have to serve three years of supervised release following his jail term.

The Canadian will also be prohibited from working in IT or using a device capable of connecting to the internet, including a smartphone.

The ransomware operation was dismantled by the US Justice Department in January 2021 with support from the Bulgarian National Investigation Service and General Directorate Combating Organized Crime. All sites on the dark web intended for negotiating payments for data decryption by NetWalker were subsequently seized. 

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