U.S., U.K. impose cybersecurity sanctions on Russian group

FILE - The U.S. Treasury Department building viewed from the Washington Monument, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, in Washington. Hackers got into computers at the U.S. Treasury Department and possibly other federal agencies, touching off a government response involving the National Security Council. Security Council spokesperson John Ullyot said Sunday, Dec. 13, 2020 that the government is aware of reports about the hacks. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, file)
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Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Treasury Department on Thursday announced a joint U.S.-U.K. effort to sanction Russian cybercriminals as the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nears and Treasury tightens its efforts to financially punish violators of existing sanctions.

The U.S. coordinated with the United Kingdom to impose sanctions on seven people that it said are part of the Russia-based cybercrime gang Trickbot. All members are listed as living in Russia or Russian-occupied Ukraine.

Trickbot is named for a strain of trojan viruses originally used to steal financial data. The viruses have infected millions of computers worldwide, including ransomware attacks that targeted hospitals in the United States at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, U.K. officials said.

In a statement, Treasury said the sanctioned men included developers, money-launderers and a senior figure, Vitaly Kovalev, who it said was indicted in federal court in New Jersey in connection with 2009 and 2010 bank hacks that predated his involvement with the Trickbot Group.

The U.S. statement said current members of the Trickbot Group are associated with Russian intelligence services but did not allege the sanctioned men worked with those services.

Calling the actions “historic,” Treasury says these are the first sanctions of their kind for the U.K., and result from a partnership between the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and several U.K. agencies aimed at disrupting Russian cybercrime.

In a separate Treasury action, nine entities across Iran, Malaysia and Singapore were sanctioned on Thursday for their role in shipping sanctioned Iranian oil to buyers in Asia — continuing a trend of punishing firms that ship Iranian oil.

Six Iran-based petrochemical manufacturers and subsidiaries, and three firms in Malaysia and Singapore involved in facilitating the sale and shipment of oil, were hit with blocks to the U.S. financial system.

Sanctions were imposed last July and September on a group of firms tied to the sale and shipment of Iranian petroleum and petrochemical products to East Asia.

U.S. sanctions on Iran have accelerated in recent months, as President Joe Biden’s administration tries to bring Tehran back to negotiations for a return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.