VPNs used by cybercriminals seized by global law enforcement

A joint operation between the FBI and European law enforcement agencies dubbed “Operation Nova” has seized Safe-Inet, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that was used in relation to criminal activity, according to a press release on December 22 released by the US Department of Justice.

Three domain names were seized: SAFE-INET.COM; SAFE-INET.NET; and INSORG.ORG in a coordinated operation that was primarily led by Germany’s Ruentlingel Police Headquarters, Europol and other law enforcement agencies. In sum, the operation took down different services and seized infrastructure in the United States, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands and France.

The domains offered “bulletproof hosting service” that provides “VPN services for criminal activities,” which includes ransomware attacks, e-skimming breach, and spearphishing while providing criminals tools to have uninterrupted services during the attack.

Accessing the domains right now will show a banner confirming the seizure was done by law enforcement agency and was a part of “Operation Nova.”

In an interview posted in Europol’s official website, Udo Vogel, Police President of the Reutlingen Police Headquarters mentioned the importance of the collaborative efforts made during the operation that resulted in the VPNs seized.

“The investigation carried out by our cybercrime specialists has resulted in such a success thanks to the excellent international cooperation with partners worldwide,” Vogel stated. “The results show that law enforcement authorities are equally as well connected as criminals.”

VPN is an extra layer of security that is implored to ensure that a user can’t “easily be tracked” by routing traffic to the same network of the VPN. For a VPN that has a server located at Hongkong, a person outside of HK who will use said VPN will have their session and internet appear as if it was being accessed from HK. While not perfect, anonymity is a great tool to lessen the chances of being tracked online.

Add to that is the standard encryption service that usually comes with the VPN, which is incredibly useful in minimizing any intrusions, snooping and possible man-in-the-middle attacks that are highly common in public networks such as in coffee shops and airports. Securing data is one of VPN’s number one priority.

While not necessarily illegal, VPNs can be made tailor-fit for criminal activities, which is one of the selling points of the Safe-Inet, often marketed to crime-linked focus and as reports would say is involved in illegal activities such as ransomware attacks, account hijacking and card skimming. (Read: Hackers hit Diebold ATMs with company’s own software)

Aside from their marketability in crime-linked forums, these “bulletproof services” that are provided by the likes of Safe-Inet can potentially be used to cover the tracks of cybercriminals, which may include refusal to give out logs and fabricating the tracks from potential illegal actions, which, according to the Department of Justice, act as “conspiring to the crime committed” and have enabled such crime to take place.

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