Vinnik Will Now Stand Before a Judge
The story behind Vinnik and his capture is a strange one. Vinnik was initially part of a cryptocurrency exchange known as BTC-e, which at one point, was one of the world’s largest crypto trading companies.
Throughout his time with the trading platform, he served as a technical programmer, though it is said that he created a specific kind of ransomware while working with the company. Known simply as “Locky,” the ransomware was delivered via email that offered attachments to users that when downloaded, forced people to pay a bitcoin fee in exchange for access to their data, which the ransomware encrypted.
This is a common method utilized by thieves to garner funds they haven’t earned. Nevertheless, the bitcoin space has seen millions of dollars in digital units go down the drain because the encryption software is too strong and the original data owners have no other choice but to pay or negotiate a smaller price.
Only it is alleged that Vinnik did not utilize this ransomware while on his own. Locky was potentially delivered to several BTC-e customers that were forced into paying out multiple bitcoin units for access to their computers, devices and information, and it is said that Vinnik may have made off with over $150 million. BTC-e has since closed its doors, but that still leaves approximately 20 separate victims of the exchange with emptied pockets.
In addition, it wasn’t just individuals that were targeted by the ransomware. Several different companies, offices and local councils were made victims of the theft between the years 2016 and 2018. This means that for two years, Locky made its way through multiple computer networks, making off with money from approximately 20 separate victims.
It Took a Lot to Get Him to France
Vinnik was initially prosecuted at the request of United States regulators. The arrest happened in late 2017 when Vinnik was on vacation in Northern Greece with his family. At the time of writing, he is facing up to ten years in prison in Paris and is facing charges of money laundering, criminal association and extortion among other things. He is also facing the possibilities of being prosecuted in both the US and Russia, as he is wanted in both countries for theft and related cybercrimes.
After the arrest, Vinnik was extradited to France, where he engaged in a 35-day hunger strike after being asked to be sent to Russia, as the charges he faces there are milder. The 41-year-old swears that he only ever served as a technical consultant of BTC-e and says that he had no knowledge of the illicit activity that was allegedly occurring behind closed doors. Even now, he is maintaining his innocence.