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Have You Seen This Man? U.S. Offers $10 Million Reward for Ransomware Mastermind

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An odd characteristic of cybercrime is that it’s almost always disembodied. Crimes are perpetrated by someone out there but precisely who is only rarely made clear.

This mystery can confuse victims. The history of crime is a long one but until recently it was a much more human-to-human affair, conducted in person. This didn’t make it easier to experience but at least the victims could see who and what they were up against.

Digital crimes—a phenomenon of the Internet era—have changed this, probably forever. Today, you are far more likely to be defrauded of significant sums of money remotely than in person, as would be the case during a traditional mugging or housebreaking.

And yet we all know that attacks don’t mount themselves—someone is behind them, but who?

Every now and again, the public gets to put a face and name to the cybercrime (or alleged cybercrime). The latest and perhaps most significant to date is Russian citizen Mikhail Pavlovich Matveev, recently named by the U.S. Justice Department for his alleged part in the ransomware attacks by three well-known ransomware groups: LockBit, Babuk, and Hive.

The United States considers Matveev so important the State Department has offered a remarkable $10 million reward “for information that leads to the arrest and/or conviction of this defendant,” as it put it in an official press statement.

The Joke Is Over

Naturally, he gets his own page on the FBI’s most wanted list, complete with a rundown on his likely movements inside and around Russia. The FBI also lists his distinguishing physical characteristics, such as:

“A full-sleeve tattoo on his right arm which includes celestial objects such as moons, planets, and meteors, and sea creatures such as a large fish and stingrays.”

And, more unusually:

“He only has four fingers on his left hand, where he is missing his left ring finger.”

Even by the dreadful standards of contemporary ransomware, being accused of a connection to LockBit, Babuk, and Hive marks you out as among the top dogs of criminality.

The authorities estimate that these ransomware variants have extorted up to $200 million in payments from thousands of organizations in the United States and beyond. The fact that the victims included the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., in 2021 wouldn’t have made him a popular figure in the seat of power, either.

The idea of naming cybercriminals is the result of the convergence of two ideas. The first is the Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program, which dates back to 2013 and was designed to identify and offer rewards to find members of organized crime gangs.

The second was a more general policy decision from around the same time to attribute digital crimes to groups or nation states, where possible putting names and faces to humanize the perpetrators. Many involved in cybercrime have been named since then. Matveev has now joined them, a face among a sea of criminals accused of drug offenses, terrorism, and kidnapping. But the $10 million reward is a lot of money for one man by the FBI’s standard, only the latest sign that cybercrime and ransomware have finally reached the status of the most serious of crimes.

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