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Dutch Crypto Fraudster Sentenced as FBI Thwarts Ransomware Group

2 mins
Updated by Geraint Price
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In Brief

  • As a former Oxford student is sentenced for crypto fraud in the U.K., the FBI has infiltrated a global ransomware group.
  • The Dutch national was captured in 2019 and has spent four years in jail awaiting trial.
  • Meanwhile, the Justice Department announced that it had disrupted the Hive ransomware group.
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As an Oxford crypto fraudster is sentenced in the U.K., the FBI has infiltrated a global ransomware group.

A former student at the Oxford University pleaded guilty to a single count of theft at Oxford Crown Court yesterday. Wybo Wiersma was accused of stealing over £2.1 million ($2.6 million) of the cryptocurrency IOTA between Jan. 17 and April 30, 2018. Following his guilty plea, Judge Michael Gledhill sentenced Wiersma to four years and six months’ imprisonment.

Wiersma Defrauded 99 Victims

While studying as a doctoral student at Oxford, Wiersma created a fraudulent website that he used to surreptitiously gain access to others’ crypto. The website purportedly created a “randomly-generated” 81-character “string” wallet password users needed to hold the crypto IOTA.

However, the string of numbers had actually already been created by Wiersma, meaning he had access to each one. Between the dates mentioned above, the computer expert proceeded to deplete the IOTA accounts of 99 victims. During the time of the theft, the total amount stolen was worth roughly £2.1 million.

After authorities arrested Wiersma in Jan. 2019, he spent more than two years on remand awaiting trial. The case had been delayed due to the difficulty in finding the relevant IT expert to explain the case to the jury. Wiersma has already served the equivalent of a prison sentence of at least four years.

FBI Busts Hive

Meanwhile, as U.K. authorities attend to a smaller case of crypto crime, their U.S. counterparts have some bigger fish to fry. The U.S. Department of Justice announced a disruption campaign it has been waging against the Hive ransomware group.

In July last year, the FBI managed to infiltrate Hive’s computer networks and captured its decryption keys. This saved victims from having to pay $130 million in ransoms. Since then, the FBI has distributed over 300 decryption keys to Hive victims who were under attack, and over 1,000 keys to previous Hive victims. 

The authorities also seized control of the servers and websites that Hive used to communicate with its members. This seizure has effectively disrupted Hive’s ability to attack and extort victims. The disruption comes as revenues from ransomware attacks have diminished over the past year.

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Nicholas Pongratz
Nick is a data scientist who teaches economics and communication in Budapest, Hungary, where he received a BA in Political Science and Economics and an MSc in Business Analytics from CEU. He has been writing about cryptocurrency and blockchain technology since 2018, and is intrigued by its potential economic and political usage.
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