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Europol shuts down VPNLab.net, says service aided ransomware and other cybercrime activites

The operation also allowed the agency to alert several businesses that had been earmarked for cyber attacks.

Alleging that VPNLab.net was being used for ransomware deployment and other cybercrime activities, the virtual private network service provider was shut down by the European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation (Europol) on January 18, as per a post on the agency’s website.

Law enforcement authorities led by the Central Crime Office of the Hannover Police Department in Germany, seized or disrupted 15 servers that hosted VPNLab.net’s service, rendering it no longer available. Other agencies that took part in the operation include the FBI and the National Crime Agency in UK.

Upon visiting the site, this reporter came across a message which says that the domain has been seized. “This service provided a platform for the anonymous commission of high value cybercrime cases, and was involved in several major international cyberattacks,” the message further reads.

VPN services are increasingly coming under the scanner of lawmakers and law enforcement agencies in various countries. Recently, an Indian parliamentary committee proposed banning such services for their purported role in enabling cyber crime.

VPNLab.net was used for illicit activities: Europol

“Law enforcement took interest in the provider after multiple investigations uncovered criminals using the VPNLab.net service to facilitate illicit activities such as malware distribution. Other cases showed the service’s use in the setting up of infrastructure and communications behind ransomware campaigns, as well as the actual deployment of ransomware.” — Europol

Europol, as a result of this investigation, has identified more than 100 business that are at risk of cyberattacks. The agency said that it is working with potential victims to rectify their vulnerabilities.

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“One important aspect of this action is also to show that, if service providers support illegal action and do not provide any information on legal requests from law enforcement authorities, that these services are not bulletproof. ” — Chief of Hanover Police Department Volker Kluwe

Block VPNs, recommends Parliamentary Committee

Calling it a ‘technological challenge’ that allows ‘criminals to remain anonymous online’, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs urged the Indian government to block virtual private networks (VPN). This came months after the government liberalised the usage of VPN for Other Service Providers (OSP) in a bid to facilitate work from home for the tech industry.

These are the other points that the committee made regarding the usage of VPNs —

  • VPNs allow criminals to bypass cyber security mechanisms to access the dark web and remain anonymous online.
  • Recommend that a coordination mechanism be developed with international agencies to ensure that VPNs are blocked permanently.
  • Ministry (of Home Affairs) must take initiatives to “strengthen tracking and surveillance mechanisms” to put a check on the use of VPN and the dark web.

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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