Police Seize VPN Service Beloved by Cyber-criminals

A virtual private network (VPN) used by some of the world's leading cyber-criminals has been shut down in an international law enforcement action led by German police.

The Safe-Inet service was deactivated yesterday as part of Operation Nova, a coordinated effort that involved the Federal Bureau of Investigation and European law enforcement agencies acting through Europol. 

Servers used by the service were taken down, and its infrastructure was seized in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United States. Visitors to the Safe-Inet webpage are now greeted by a domain seizure notice.

Safe-Inet was active for eleven years prior to yesterday's action, describing itself as an international team of "experienced technical specialists who understand how important anonymity on the network is for our clients."

According to Europol, the service was used by cyber-criminals to carry out serious crimes including e-skimming breaches and ransomware attacks. 

"This VPN service was sold at a high price to the criminal underworld as one of the best tools available to avoid law enforcement interception, offering up to 5 layers of anonymous VPN connections," said a spokesperson for Europol.

Law enforcement observed criminals using Safe-Inet to spy on 250 companies located around the world. Police warned the companies that they may be targeted by ransomware and advised them to beef up their cybersecurity.

Investigations are ongoing in multiple countries to identify and prosecute individuals who used the VPN service to commit crimes.

Operation Nova was led by German Reutlingen Police Headquarters and carried out in the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT). 

"The investigation carried out by our cybercrime specialists has resulted in such a success thanks to the excellent international cooperation with partners worldwide," said police president of the Reutlingen Police Headquarters, Udo Vogel.  

"The results show that law enforcement authorities are equally as well connected as criminals."

Head of Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre, Edvardas Šileris, said that cybercriminals couldn't hide from the law.

"The strong working relationship fostered by Europol between the investigators involved in this case on either side of the world was central in bringing down this service," said Šileris. 

"Criminals can run but they cannot hide from law enforcement, and we will continue working tirelessly together with our partners to outsmart them."

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