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New Zealand’s Role in the Fight Against Ransomware

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In a significant stride against cybercrime, especially for ransomware, New Zealand police have joined a multinational effort that disrupted the ransomware group LockBit. Coordinated by the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA), the operation dismantled LockBit’s infrastructure, resulting in arrests and indictments.

LockBit’s operations exploit vulnerabilities such as Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) servers, phishing emails, weak passwords, and software vulnerabilities to gain initial network access. Once inside a network, LockBit encrypts data across all accessible systems and demands a ransom for decryption.

Ransomware attacks have been a significant threat to countries worldwide, with the United States historically being the most affected nation. However, recent reports indicate a shift in focus towards other countries. In 2022, the UK emerged as the second most attacked country, followed by Germany, Canada, and Italy. The various sectors have become prime targets for ransomware attacks, with a notable increase in attacks in this industry.

Government agencies have also been prime targets for ransomware attacks, with several high-profile incidents highlighting the vulnerability of government systems. These attacks can have far-reaching consequences, impacting national security and public trust in government institutions.

The ongoing issues can threaten national security and cause significant economic losses. Therefore, steps like those taken by the New Zealand police in dealing with the LockBit ransomware group are crucial. By participating in multinational efforts, New Zealand is committed to combating increasingly troubling cybercrime, highlighting the importance of international cooperation in addressing this global threat.

The operation’s success was underscored by the National Crime Agency’s (NCA) seizure of LockBit’s primary administration environment and its leak site on the dark web. Additionally, they obtained the source code of the LockBit platform and gathered a significant amount of intelligence from its systems. This enabled the U.S. Department of Justice to charge two defendants responsible for ransomware attacks using LockBit, now in custody and facing trial in the U.S. Indictments were also unsealed against two other individuals, Russian nationals, for conspiring to commit LockBit attacks.

Victims of LockBit attacks are being contacted locally, ensuring that they are informed and supported in dealing with the aftermath of these cybercrimes. The NCA’s director general, Graeme Biggar, emphasised that “as of today, LockBit are locked out,” indicating a significant blow to the ransomware group’s operations. This coordinated effort between international agencies demonstrates a strong commitment to combating cybercrime and protecting individuals and businesses from future attacks.

The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol), which also participated in the operation, coordinated the takedown of 34 servers across several countries, including the Netherlands, Germany, Finland, France, Switzerland, Australia, the U.S., and the UK. The operation led to arrests in Poland and Ukraine at the request of French judicial authorities and the issuance of international arrest warrants and indictments by French and U.S. authorities.

The collaborative effort involved law enforcement agencies from 10 countries, including the FBI and the Australian Federal Police. The New Zealand Police were among the agencies that were thanked for their assistance, highlighting the global nature of cybercrime and the importance of international cooperation in combating it.

The operation against LockBit represents a significant success in the fight against cybercrime, demonstrating the effectiveness of international collaboration in disrupting and dismantling criminal networks operating in the digital realm.

Looking ahead, countries and law enforcement agencies must continue strengthening their cooperation and sharing best practices to combat cyber threats effectively. This includes enhancing cyber defence capabilities, investing in cybersecurity education and training, and promoting public-private partnerships to protect critical infrastructure and sensitive information from cyberattacks. As cybercriminals evolve and adapt their tactics, the international community must remain vigilant and proactive in addressing cyber threats to safeguard the digital future.


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