A Canadian man pleaded guilty in federal court in Tampa on Monday for his role in ransomware attacks that stole an estimated $40 million in cryptocurrency from victims around the world, according to federal authorities.
Federal prosecutors in the Middle District of Florida charged Sebastien Vachon-Desjardins, 34, with conspiracy to commit computer and wire fraud, intentional damage to a protected computer and transmitting a demand in relation to damaging a protected computer. Canadian authorities seized about $28 million in Bitcoin from the operation after searching Vachon-Desjardins’ home and bank in Quebec in January 2021.
“He is pleading guilty because he believes that is in his best interest,” defense attorney Mark O’Brien told The Tampa Bay Times.
Vachon-Desjardins was a member of a Russian cyber-crime group that used NetWalker ransomware to attack companies, hospitals, law enforcement, emergency services and universities throughout 2020, according to the Department of Justice. The group demanded ransom for the return of stolen data; if a victim did not comply, they leaked their information online to the NetWalker blog.
An unnamed Tampa company is among the victims of the scheme, according to court documents. Vachon-Desjardins allegedly hacked into the company’s network, sending a ransom note that said, in part, “We recommend that you move away from the computer and accept that you have been compromised.” The company did not pay the ransom, which was for $300,000 in bitcoin, but reportedly spent about $1.2 million to respond to the attack.
Vachon-Desjardins faced up to 40 years in prison if convicted on all charges. Federal authorities described him as a “prolific” hacker who picked which victims to target and controlled the operation’s computer servers.