20-Year-Old Russian LockBit Ransomware Affiliate Arrested in Arizona

LockBit Ransomware Affiliate

Jun 16, 2023Ravie LakshmananRansomware / Cyber Crime

The U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) on Thursday unveiled charges against a Russian national for his alleged involvement in deploying LockBit ransomware to targets in the U.S., Asia, Europe, and Africa.

Ruslan Magomedovich Astamirov, 20, of Chechen Republic has been accused of perpetrating at least five attacks between August 2020 and March 2023. He was arrested in the state of Arizona last month.

“Astamirov allegedly participated in a conspiracy with other members of the LockBit ransomware campaign to commit wire fraud and to intentionally damage protected computers and make ransom demands through the use and deployment of ransomware,” the DoJ said.

Astamirov, as part of his LockBit-related activities, managed various email addresses, IP addresses, and other online accounts to deploy the ransomware and communicate with the victims.

Law enforcement agencies said they were able to trace a chunk of an unnamed victim’s ransom payment to a virtual currency address operated by Astamirov.

The defendant, if convicted, faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on the first charge and a maximum penalty of five years in prison on the second charge.

Astamirov is the third individual to be prosecuted in the U.S. in connection with LockBit after Mikhail Vasiliev, who is currently awaiting extradition to the U.S., and Mikhail Pavlovich Matveev, who was indicted last month for his participation in LockBit, Babuk, and Hive ransomware. Matveev remains at large.

In a recent interview with The Record, Matveev said he was not surprised by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) decision to include his name in the Cyber Most Wanted list and that the “news about me will be forgotten very soon.”

Matveev, who said he is self-taught, also admitted to his role as an affiliate for the now-defunct Hive operation, and professed his desire to “take IT in Russia to the next level.”

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The DoJ statement also comes a day after cybersecurity authorities from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, New Zealand, the U.K., and the U.S. released a joint advisory warning of LockBit ransomware.

LockBit functions under the ransomware-as-a-service (RaaS) model, in which the core team recruits affiliates to carry out the attacks against corporate networks on their behalf in return for a cut of the ill-gotten proceeds.

The affiliates are known to employ double extortion techniques by first encrypting victim data and then exfiltrating that data while threatening to post that stolen data on leak sites in an attempt to pressurize the targets into paying ransoms.

The group is estimated to have launched nearly 1,700 attacks since emerging on the scene in late 2019, although the exact number is believed to be higher since the dark web data leak site only reveals the names and leaked data of victims who refuse to pay ransoms.

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