‘Criminal’ VPN Shut Down by Europol and International Law Enforcement *TorrentFreak

Like all communication systems such as telephone networks, Internet service providers and even email, VPN services can be used by law-abiding citizens and criminals alike.

To stay within the bounds of the law, the important factor is whether the communications provider or service actively and knowingly encourages or facilitates illegal activities. According to an announcement from Europol, VPN provider VPNLab seems to have overstepped the bar.

VPNLabs domain seized, service stopped

Historical visitors to the VPNLab.net website were previously greeted with the type of message associated with many privacy-focused services.

“VPNLab is a service ensuring your security on the Internet by encrypting the original traffic. Our service is designed for a wide range of customers: webmasters, SEO optimizers, marketers, business people and people concerned about their personal security,” the site states.

“Average users do not see the need for the procedure described and may even find it unnecessary, but the latest legal proceedings presented involving people who were simply expressing their opinions in their own web logs show the seriousness of the Internet security problem.”

Following a lengthy international investigation by authorities in Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Latvia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States, a new message is visible – which suggests that the service was more than just a vehicle to enable free speech.

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VPNLab – 2008 to 2022

According to a Europol announcement, VPNLab began operations in 2008, offering an OpenVPN-based service designed to provide online anonymity for as little as $60 per year. Exactly when the service came to the attention of law enforcement is not yet clear, but according to Europol, at some point VPNLab became popular with cybercriminals.

“Law enforcement became interested in the provider after multiple investigations found criminals using the VPNLab.net service to facilitate illicit activities such as malware distribution. Other cases have shown the use of the service in setting up infrastructure and communications behind ransomware campaigns, as well as the actual deployment of ransomware,” Europol explains.

The European Union Agency for Law Enforcement Cooperation adds that as a result of the VPNLab investigation, more than 100 companies have been identified as “at risk of cyberattacks”, the forces of the l order is currently working with these potential victims to mitigate their exposure.

International cooperation

There is no doubt that law enforcement authorities considered VPNLab to be a major cybersecurity issue.

In Germany, the Hannover Police Department played a key role and in the Netherlands, the country’s Hi-Tech Crime Unit was called upon. Also involved in the operation were the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Czech National Organized Crime Agency, the National Crime Agency of the United Kingdom, the FBI in the United States, as well as specialized agencies across Europe. .

“On January 17, disruptive actions took place in a coordinated manner in Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Latvia, Ukraine, the United States and the United Kingdom. . Law enforcement authorities have now seized or disrupted the 15 servers that hosted VPNLab.net’s service, rendering it unavailable,” Europol adds.

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Criminals ‘run out of places to hide’

According to Edvardas Šileris, head of Europol’s European Cybercrime Center, the action against VPNLab shows that bad actors cannot take anonymity for granted.

“The actions taken in this investigation clearly show that criminals lack the means to hide their tracks online. Each investigation we undertake informs the next, and the information obtained about potential victims means that we may have anticipated several serious cyberattacks and data breaches,” says Šileris.

An important feature of the ad is the description of VPNLab. Rather than just another VPN provider offering internet anonymity, the service is said to have advertised itself on the dark web. While certainly not a crime in itself, Hannover Police Department Chief Volker Kluwe suggests an unacceptable level of involvement in illegal activities by VPNLabs customers.

“An important aspect of this action is also to show that, while service providers support illegal actions and do not provide information on legal requests from law enforcement authorities, these services are not proof. bullets,” Kluwe said.

“This operation shows the result of effective international law enforcement cooperation, shutting down a global network and destroying these marks.”

The action against VPNLab follows a similar operation in June 2021 that targeted DoubleVPN. In this case, the VPN provider was also accused of being complicit in the actions of its users, not only by providing anonymity, but by advertising itself on cybercrime forums as a means for ransomware operators. and phishing scammers to hide their locations.

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