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Ransomware group that carried out major attacks reappears after brief absence

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Payment portals and a victim-shaming website used by the so-called REvil group had been quiet since the hackers claimed responsibility for a July ransomware attack on IT provider Kaseya that affected an estimated 1,500 businesses around the world.

“Currently, we have not observed any new victims, but ultimately the group is back to make money as ransomware is very profitable,” said Adam Meyers, senior vice president of intelligence at security firm CrowdStrike.

The development comes three months after a meeting between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in which Biden said he urged Putin to crack down on cybercriminals operating from Russian soil.

US National Cyber Director Chris Inglis said Thursday that public reports indicate some Russian-speaking ransomware groups have been less active since the Biden-Putin meeting, but that it was “too soon to say that we’re out of the woods on this.”

“I think it’s a fair bet that [the ransomware groups] have self-deconstructed, that they’ve essentially gone cold and quiet to see whether the storm will blow over and whether they can then come back,” said Inglis, a top cybersecurity adviser to Biden.

REvil is one of multiple ransomware gangs suspected of operating out of Russia and Eastern Europe that have extorted millions of dollars out of major companies in recent months. The FBI blamed REvil for a May ransomware attack on JBS USA, which accounts for some one-fifth of US beef production. JBS said it paid the hackers $11 million to unlock their systems.

That incident followed the days-long shutdown of major fuel transporter Colonial Pipeline earlier in May after a ransomware attack by another Russian-speaking criminal outfit known as DarkSide. Colonial Pipeline, which transports some 45% of all fuel consumed on the East Coast, paid its extortionists $4.4 million.

REvil’s reemergence “shows the resiliency of organized cybercrime groups … to get back to business as usual in a relatively short period of time,” Michael DeBolt, chief intelligence officer of cybersecurity firm Intel 471, told CNN.

United Nations confirms hackers breached its systems earlier this year

Ransomware has taken an increasing toll on the US economy in recent years.

Victims of ransomware attacks paid some $350 million in ransoms in 2020, according to Chainalysis, a firm that tracks cryptocurrency. Those who don’t pay can spend millions of dollars rebuilding their computer infrastructure.

Alarmed by the potential of ransomware and other cyber threats to hinder US critical infrastructure, Biden met with executives of key tech and energy firms at the White House in August. In response, Google and Microsoft pledged a combined $30 billion on cybersecurity initiatives.

As the White House tries to pressure Moscow into reining in ransomware groups, US officials have urged businesses to step up their security measures to make hacks less impactful.

The FBI and US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in August reminded companies that the agencies “strongly discourage paying a ransom to criminal actors” because it could allow hackers to invest in new capabilities.



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Prosecutors accuse Maryland couple of hiding additional classified naval secrets

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The revelation came during a detention hearing for Diana Toebbe, who is charged, along with her husband Jonathan, in an elaborate scheme to sell nuclear submarine details.

As part of its case to keep the couple in jail, prosecutors disclosed that the FBI has not been able to access all of the couple’s encrypted email accounts, and still has not located all of the classified naval secrets it believes the couple possessed.

Special assistant US Attorney Jessica Smolar said 50 of the 51 packets of restricted data the couple held cannot be found, warning the information could cause extreme damage to the Navy if the information got out.

Jonathan and Diana Toebbe appeared separately, each wearing orange jail uniforms, masks, and shackles. Jonathan Toebbe waived his right to a detention hearing, but an FBI special agent revealed new details about the couples’ alleged scheme during a lengthy hearing for his wife. The judge has not yet ruled if Diana Toebbe will be released.

Several photographs and videos were presented in court that the special agent said showed the couple arriving at numerous so-called dead-drop locations throughout the summer of 2021 where they appeared to act as tourists before depositing SD cards filled with classified naval submarine secrets.

They showed “typical tradecraft of espionage subjects,” the special agent testified, describing how FBI surveillance captured the couple parking their BMW Mini Cooper one-and-a-half miles from the initial dead-drop location and then carefully making their way to the previously agreed-upon drop-off spot.

“Diana was right behind him within a meter away,” the agent testified. “Basically keeping a look-out to make sure no one was coming up on them during that operation.”

After Jonathan deposited the SD card, “Diana provided a very distinctive head nod as if they needed to get out of the area, and I observed that,” the agent said.

The couple is accused of acting together to coordinate three separate drop-offs of SD cards containing classified information about nuclear submarines, specifically the Virginia-class submarine. The FBI agent disclosed the depths to which the couple attempted to hide the SD cards at the dead-drop locations, saying one SD card was tucked into a saran-wrapped peanut butter sandwich, while others were hidden inside a packet of gum and a sealed Band-Aid wrapper.

During an anticipated fourth dead-drop on October 9 in West Virginia, the couple was arrested by the FBI.

At the court hearing Wednesday, the testifying special agent said Jonathan Toebbe was getting increasingly concerned about his family’s safety. During the third dead-drop on August 28, Jonathan Toebbe arrived alone while his wife stayed home recovering from ankle surgery.

“Jonathan was extremely nervous,” the agent testified. “More nervous than we’d seen him on the previous ones and just very cautious about what was going on around him….because Diana was not there to act as a lookout.”

Jonathan Toebbe allegedly left a letter with the SD card during that dead-drop which said in part, “I have considered the possible need to leave on short notice. Should that ever become necessary, I will be forever grateful for your help extracting me and my family…. We have passports and cash set aside for this purpose.”

On Tuesday, a grand jury indicted the couple, charging them each with one count of Conspiracy to Communicate Restricted Data and two counts of Communication of Restricted Data. The couple pleaded not guilty to all three counts.

If convicted on any of the three counts, the couple faces up to life in prison.

The couple was arrested October 9, and the initial criminal complaint described how the Toebbes tried to sell sensitive information about nuclear submarines to a foreign country in exchange for millions of dollars in cryptocurrency. The country, which has not been identified in court filings, notified the FBI, which launched a year-long sting operation. The testifying special agent noted that the FBI moved quickly after discovering the couple was trying to sell these secrets in December 2020 because they were concerned the couple might try to shop the information to multiple countries.

After their arrest, the FBI searched their home in Annapolis, Maryland, where they discovered $11,300 in cash — all one hundred-dollar bills wrapped in rubber-bands; a crypto wallet; passports for their two children; and a go-bag containing a laptop computer, a USB drive and latex gloves.

Prosecutors revealed Wednesday that the couple had requested expedited passport renewals since theirs had expired in February 2021; the request was still being processed at the time of the couple’s arrest.

The Justice Department had previously moved to keep the couple in jail, citing their potential flight risk and the severity of their alleged crimes. The Toebbes appeared Wednesday with their court-appointed lawyers. Magistrate Judge Robert Trumble said he will issue a written decision as to whether Diana Toebbe will be released pending trial.



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Prosecutors accuse Maryland couple of hiding additional classified naval secrets

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The revelation came during a detention hearing for Diana Toebbe, who is charged, along with her husband Jonathan, in an elaborate scheme to sell nuclear submarine details.

As part of its case to keep the couple in jail, prosecutors disclosed that the FBI has not been able to access all of the couple’s encrypted email accounts, and still has not located all of the classified naval secrets it believes the couple possessed.

Special assistant US Attorney Jessica Smolar said 50 of the 51 packets of restricted data the couple held cannot be found, warning the information could cause extreme damage to the Navy if the information got out.

Jonathan and Diana Toebbe appeared separately, each wearing orange jail uniforms, masks, and shackles. Jonathan Toebbe waived his right to a detention hearing, but an FBI special agent revealed new details about the couples’ alleged scheme during a lengthy hearing for his wife. The judge has not yet ruled if Diana Toebbe will be released.

Several photographs and videos were presented in court that the special agent said showed the couple arriving at numerous so-called dead-drop locations throughout the summer of 2021 where they appeared to act as tourists before depositing SD cards filled with classified naval submarine secrets.

They showed “typical tradecraft of espionage subjects,” the special agent testified, describing how FBI surveillance captured the couple parking their BMW Mini Cooper one-and-a-half miles from the initial dead-drop location and then carefully making their way to the previously agreed-upon drop-off spot.

“Diana was right behind him within a meter away,” the agent testified. “Basically keeping a look-out to make sure no one was coming up on them during that operation.”

After Jonathan deposited the SD card, “Diana provided a very distinctive head nod as if they needed to get out of the area, and I observed that,” the agent said.

The couple is accused of acting together to coordinate three separate drop-offs of SD cards containing classified information about nuclear submarines, specifically the Virginia-class submarine. The FBI agent disclosed the depths to which the couple attempted to hide the SD cards at the dead-drop locations, saying one SD card was tucked into a saran-wrapped peanut butter sandwich, while others were hidden inside a packet of gum and a sealed Band-Aid wrapper.

During an anticipated fourth dead-drop on October 9 in West Virginia, the couple was arrested by the FBI.

At the court hearing Wednesday, the testifying special agent said Jonathan Toebbe was getting increasingly concerned about his family’s safety. During the third dead-drop on August 28, Jonathan Toebbe arrived alone while his wife stayed home recovering from ankle surgery.

“Jonathan was extremely nervous,” the agent testified. “More nervous than we’d seen him on the previous ones and just very cautious about what was going on around him….because Diana was not there to act as a lookout.”

Jonathan Toebbe allegedly left a letter with the SD card during that dead-drop which said in part, “I have considered the possible need to leave on short notice. Should that ever become necessary, I will be forever grateful for your help extracting me and my family…. We have passports and cash set aside for this purpose.”

On Tuesday, a grand jury indicted the couple, charging them each with one count of Conspiracy to Communicate Restricted Data and two counts of Communication of Restricted Data. The couple pleaded not guilty to all three counts.

If convicted on any of the three counts, the couple faces up to life in prison.

The couple was arrested October 9, and the initial criminal complaint described how the Toebbes tried to sell sensitive information about nuclear submarines to a foreign country in exchange for millions of dollars in cryptocurrency. The country, which has not been identified in court filings, notified the FBI, which launched a year-long sting operation. The testifying special agent noted that the FBI moved quickly after discovering the couple was trying to sell these secrets in December 2020 because they were concerned the couple might try to shop the information to multiple countries.

After their arrest, the FBI searched their home in Annapolis, Maryland, where they discovered $11,300 in cash — all one hundred-dollar bills wrapped in rubber-bands; a crypto wallet; passports for their two children; and a go-bag containing a laptop computer, a USB drive and latex gloves.

Prosecutors revealed Wednesday that the couple had requested expedited passport renewals since theirs had expired in February 2021; the request was still being processed at the time of the couple’s arrest.

The Justice Department had previously moved to keep the couple in jail, citing their potential flight risk and the severity of their alleged crimes. The Toebbes appeared Wednesday with their court-appointed lawyers. Magistrate Judge Robert Trumble said he will issue a written decision as to whether Diana Toebbe will be released pending trial.



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Bitcoin price surges to new record above $65,000

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Bitcoin prices have surged 50% this month, from just under $44,000 at the end of September.
Some investors are now predicting even bigger gains for bitcoin, despite continued criticism of the cryptocurrency by JPMorgan Chase (JPM) CEO Jamie Dimon, who recently called bitcoin “worthless.”

“Given the price momentum we are seeing on the back of bitcoin’s ETF, we believe that bitcoin can easily go all the way to [$100,000] by the end of this year,” Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst with AvaTrade, said in a report Wednesday.



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