Bitcoin Ransomware Creators Avoid Jail Time for $11,000 Heist

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Two brothers convicted of creating bitcoin ransomware and infecting more than 1,000 computers have narrowly avoided jail time and will instead perform community service.

Authorities initially arrested the two Dutch brothers in 2015 for infecting thousands of computers during the previous two years. Three years later, the story is finally coming to an end, as the court sentenced the brothers to 240 hours of community service, local media sources have reported.

CNN initially reported the news on November 2015. At the time, two ransomware strains, CoinVault and Bitcryptor, were taken down by a joint effort between The Netherlands’ law enforcement agency and a Russian private security firm, Kaspersky.

CoinVault Took Control of Personal Files and Demanded Bitcoin as Ransom

Authorities say that the hackers infected at least 1,259 computers between 2014 and the time of their arrest. The malware employed a file-locking method to keep its victims away from their files. Once users triggered the ransomware through a downloaded file, CoinVault would copy all the data to a server, encrypt them, and delete them from their original location.

A CoinVault window would pop-up and blackmail the user into transferring a certain amount of bitcoin to receive the key to decrypt the files. The window allowed the victim to check a list of the encrypted data and would even decrypt one file as proof of its word.

The payment included a 24-hour timer, which would add around $100 to the total value of the ransom every time it reset until the victim paid it. Users had the choice to send 0.5 BTC — valued around $190 at the time — before the first increase.

The Two Dutch Brothers Had Their Prison Sentence Wavered

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The ransomware creators narrowly avoided jail time and will instead perform community service.

The two brothers, aged 21 and 25, from Hoogland, Utrecht, were initially sentenced to a year in prison and 240 hours of community service, a month ago. However, due to this being their first offense, the court decided to waver their prison sentences, and punish them solely with community service.

Reportedly, the hackers cooperated fully with the investigation, most likely hoping for a lighter sentence — it seems it paid off. Thanks to their help, authorities were able to identify 1,259 computers infected and retrieved over 14,000 decryption keys.

The Two Hackers Will Compensate Their Victims

The brothers allegedly received over $11,000 from around 100 victims. In addition to the community service, the court also sentenced the hacker duo to pay compensation to the affected victims. According to local press, the majority of the victims were from the Netherlands.

At the time of their arrest, Kaspersky had successfully decrypted both CoinVault and Bitcryptor. Apart from the 14,000 decryption keys collected, the security firm was also offering for download a free decryption tool to help users get rid of the ransomware.

Images from Shutterstock

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Mauro is a Portuguese crypto journalist in pursuit of his digital nomad dream. Although he graduated in scriptwriting, he spent the past decade in corporate environments. Now that he's rediscovering what freedom feels like, he can't get enough of blockchain and its decentralization.