The FBI joined with other law enforcement agencies from around the world on Tuesday to take down the web domains and server infrastructure of three VPN services, stymying efforts by cybercriminals who had long favoured them for their “bulletproof hosting” services.
In a Tuesday statement, United States Attorney Matthew Schneider announced that the U.S. had joined with law enforcement agencies from Germany, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands in the takedown, dubbed “Operation Nova.”
The seized VPNs are believed to have been active at insorg.org, safe-inet.com and safe-inet.net for over a decade, and were reportedly advertised on both Russian and English-speaking underground cybercrime forums for prices ranging from $US1.3 ($2)/day to $US190 ($253)/year.
According to a statement from the Justice Department, much of the criminal activity occurring on the network “involved cyber actors responsible for ransomware, E-skimming breaches, spearphishing, and account takeovers.”
The hosting services have been referred to as “bulletproof” because the products are designed with the intention of allowing for uninterrupted use and providing cover for criminals. Hosts of the service utilise a range of tactics in order to evade law enforcement and keep their customers happy, including providing excuses to railroad their victims when they complain about abuse, frequently switching a client’s IP address in order to avoid detection and not maintaining logs so that there are none for law enforcement to seize.
Visitors to the three seized domains will now be met with a law enforcement banner declaring that the operation had been carried out as part of Operation Nova.
Although charges had yet t0 be announced on Tuesday, Europol — the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement — said that it plans to analyse the collected information from servers that had been seized across five countries in order to begin building cases against some of the services’ users.
“The investigation carried out by our cybercrime specialists has resulted in such a success thanks to the excellent international cooperation with partners worldwide,” said Udo Vogel, Police President of the Reutlingen Police Headquarters. “The results show that law enforcement authorities are equally as well connected as criminals.”