An online site run by a prolific criminal gang that holds its victims’ data to ransom has been completely taken over by law enforcement.

The infiltration was pulled off by a rare collaboration of international police agencies, including Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA), the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Europol.

Lockbit, a prominent ransomware group, found its operations disrupted in the wake of the international law enforcement operation, as announced in a post on the gang’s website on Monday (19 February, 2024).

“This site is now under the control of the National Crime Agency of the UK, working in close cooperation with the FBI and the international law enforcement taskforce ‘Operation Cronos’,” the post said.

The international collaboration involved police organisations from Australia, Canada, Germany, Finland, France, Netherlands, and Sweden, reflecting the global scope of efforts to combat cybercrime.

Lockbit, responsible for attacks on over 1,700 organizations across various sectors in the US, has been described by US officials as the world’s leading ransomware threat.

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The group’s targets have ranged from financial services and food industries to schools, transportation, and government departments.

Lockbit and its affiliates have recently targeted some of the world’s largest organisations, generating revenue by stealing sensitive data and threatening to leak it unless victims comply with extortionate ransom demands.

The group recruits like-minded criminal affiliates to conduct attacks using its digital extortion tools.

Ransomware, malicious software encrypting data, is Lockbit’s modus operandi, compelling victims to pay a ransom for the release of their data.

The group came to light in 2020 when its eponymous malicious software surfaced on Russian-language cybercrime forums, leading to speculations about its possible Russian origin.

Lockbit’s lack of affiliation with any government and its purely monetary motives were emphasised on its now-defunct dark web site, where it claimed to be “located in the Netherlands, completely apolitical and only interested in money.”

In its 2023 Cybersecurity Thematic Intelligence report, research and analysis company GlobalData forecasted that global cybercrime will reach $10trn annually by 2025.  

Tackling rising cybercrime, like hacktivism and AI assisted phishing, will require a large upfront investment from companies and by 2030 cybersecurity revenues could reach up to $344bn, according to the company.