Cyber extortionist threatened to bomb NHS targets

by Jeremy

AGerman court has convicted a 33-year-old Italian man for making cyber extortion and bomb threats against the NHS at the height of the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, following an international investigation led by the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA).

Emil Apreda was sentenced to three years following his conviction at Berlin’s District Criminal Court. He has been released on bail until the court’s decision has been ratified. Apreda sent an email to the NHS on 25 April 2020 that threatened to detonate a bomb at an unspecified hospital in the UK unless demands for a £10m bitcoin ransom were met. He purported to be a member of Combat 18, a neo-Nazi group that is not banned in the UK.

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The deputy director of the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit (NCCU), Nigel Leary, told reporters that the NCA also directly received a copy of the threat early on the morning of 26 April.

“Obviously, we were in a period of deep and heightened vulnerability … with the response to the pandemic being conducted by the NHS across the UK,” he said. “There were certain conditions in place around the provision of treatment to individuals at UK hospitals, which really made this incident an acute one, and something that required a dynamic and significant law enforcement response.

“Our offender in this case was using a variety of methods to try to obfuscate their identity and avoid detection by law enforcement agencies,” he added. This is understood to have included the use of various dark web services and encrypted communications.

Leary said that the perpetrator remained in contact with the NHS for a period of several weeks, reacting to world events and, following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, made threats against the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the lives of MPs around the fourth anniversary of the assassination of Jo Cox.

Subsequent technical investigations, and the use of behavioural and linguistic analysis, enabled the NCA to establish concrete leads as to the perpetrator’s identity and profile, and to his location in Germany, at which point the organisation involved local law enforcement, leading to an arrest on 15 June 2020. The trial began in December 2020.

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