Department of Justice Announces Seizure of $500,000 in Ransom Payments Made by U.S. Healthcare Providers

The U.S Department of Justice has announced that around $500,000 in Bitcoin has been seized from North Korean threat actors who were using Maui ransomware to attack healthcare organizations in the United States.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) recently issued a security alert warning that North Korean hackers have been targeting the healthcare and public health sector in the United States using Maui ransomware since at least May 2021. The attacks have caused extensive disruption to IT systems and medical services and have put patient safety at risk.

The new ransomware variant was discovered during an investigation of a ransomware attack on a hospital in Kansas in May 2021. The attack was traced to a North Korean hacking group that is suspected of receiving backing from the state. The Kansas hospital had its servers encrypted, preventing access to essential IT systems for more than a week. The hospital paid a ransom of $100,000 for the keys to decrypt files and regain access to its servers and promptly notified the FBI about the attack and payment. The FBI was able to trace the payment, which was passed to money launderers in China, along with another payment of approximately $120,000 that was made by a healthcare provider in Colorado.

In May 2022, the FBI filed a seizure warrant in the District of Kansas to recover payments made in cryptocurrencies to the Maui ransomware gang, and ransom payments of approximately $500,000 were recovered from the seized cryptocurrency accounts. The funds have been forfeited by the ransomware gang and have been returned to healthcare providers in Kansas and Colorado.

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“Thanks to rapid reporting and cooperation from a victim, the FBI and Justice Department prosecutors have disrupted the activities of a North Korean state-sponsored group deploying ransomware known as ‘Maui,’” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco today at the International Conference on Cyber Security. “Not only did this allow us to recover their ransom payment as well as a ransom paid by previously unknown victims, but we were also able to identify a previously unidentified ransomware strain. The approach used in this case exemplifies how the Department of Justice is attacking malicious cyber activity from all angles to disrupt bad actors and prevent the next victim.”

Microsoft has also recently reported that a North Korean hacking group that operates under the name HolyGhost has also been using ransomware attacks on SMBs in the United States. It is not clear if the attacks are being conducted by a state-sponsored hacking group or if individuals associated with the Lazarus Group are moonlighting and conducting the attacks independently.

“Today’s success demonstrates the result of reporting to the FBI and our partners as early as possible when you are a victim of a cyberattack; this provides law enforcement with the ability to best assist the victim,” said FBI Cyber Division Assistant Director Bryan Vorndran. “We will continue to pursue these malicious cyber actors, such as these North Korean hackers, who threaten the American public regardless of where they may be and work to successfully retrieve ransom payments where possible.”

Author: Steve Alder has many years of experience as a journalist, and comes from a background in market research. He is a specialist on legal and regulatory affairs, and has several years of experience writing about HIPAA. Steve holds a B.Sc. from the University of Liverpool.