Some 15 server infrastructures used by crims to prepare ransomware attacks were seized by cops yesterday as part of an international sting to take down VPNLab.net.

The VPN provider’s service gave users “shielded communications and internet access” that was used in “support of serious criminals acts such as ransomware deployment and other cybercrime activities,” Europol said today.

The raids were led by Central Criminal Office of the Hanover Police Department in Germany under the the EMPACT security framework objective of Cybercrime – Attacks Against Information Systems.

Police action also took place in the Netherlands, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Latvia, Ukraine, the US and the UK, the latter being initiated by the National Crime Agency to yank the local node of the network offline.

Europol set its sights on VPNLab.net after multiple other investigations lifted the lid on the criminals using the service to control botnets and distribute malware. In other instances, the VPN service was used to set-up infrastructure and comms that underpinned ransomware campaigns, as well as the deployment of the bad stuff.

More than 100 businesses were identified as being at risk of attack and the cops are working with these “potential victims to mitigate their exposure”, Europol said.

Web domains were yesterday replaced with a law enforcement splash page to confirm the network was down and out.

“The actions carried out under this investigation make clear that criminals are running out of ways to hide their tracks online,” said a triumphant Edvardas Šileris, head of Europol’s European Cyber Crime Centre. “Each investigation we undertake informs the next, and the information gained on potential victims means we may have pre-empted several serious cyberattacks and data breaches.”

Volker Kluwe, chief of Hanover Police Department, said: “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 are not bulletproof.

“This operation shows the result of an effective cooperation of international law enforcement agencies, which makes it possible to shut down a global network and destroy such brands.”

Founded in 2008, LabVPN offers virtual private network services via the Dark Web based on OpenVPN tech and a 2048-bit encryption, starting from $60 per year.

John Denley, deputy director of the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit, said in a statement that crims thought they could use LabVPN to “operate with impunity, and remain under the radar of law enforcement.

“This operation shows they were wrong and that there is no hiding place from the combined power of global law enforcement when it comes to taking down illegal IT infrastructure. This included the NCA switching off servers which were being hosted in the UK.” ®