EU PROTECTS > Our Safety > Cracking the code: How the EU protects our computers from cybercriminals

“All of a sudden, I couldn’t access my documents, pictures or music. I was locked out of all my computer files!”

Sebastian Nicolau

What would you do if your computer files suddenly disappeared? When cybercriminals targeted Sebastian’s computer, they sent him an ultimatum: pay $1,200 or say goodbye to all of your photos, work documents and emails. Criminals use dangerous software, known as ‘ransomware’, to hold computer files hostage in exchange for money. Thankfully, Sebastian went directly to the police, where cyber experts helped him solve the problem without paying the ransom. 
 
The EU is leading the way to protect Sebastian – and other victims – against this new kind of criminal activity. Europol helps national police share vital information about cybercrimes across EU borders. Meanwhile, an EU-supported website helps victims of these crimes recover their computer files without paying a penny.

Cracking the code: How the EU protects our computers from cybercriminals

Spam, unwanted software downloads, viruses – cybercriminals do not even have to be in the same place as their victims to inflict long-lasting damage. Learn about the EU agency that helped Romanian and Dutch police catch up with a network of cybercriminals. Coupled with an anti-ransomware website, the EU is sending a strong warning to criminals who try to hijack our computers in exchange for money.

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Sebastian Nicolau

Ransomware victim

Romania

“I was browsing the internet on my laptop when I received a pop-up asking me to upgrade my computer software. Ten minutes later I couldn’t access my emails or any of my files. A message on my screen asked for $1,200 in exchange for a code to unlock my files.”

“I started to panic, and thought about paying the ransom. But I didn’t want to give in. I brought my laptop to the Bucharest police. Their cybercrime unit confirmed that my computer was infected with ransomware. The police helped me crack the ransomware code and get back 99% of my files.”

“Victims of ransomware need to know that they can get help immediately.”

 - Sebastian Nicolau

Catalin Zetu

Central Cybercrime unit, National Police

Romania

“We helped Sebastian retrieve his computer files. Our door is open to anyone whose computer has been infected by ransomware, so they don’t have to pay the criminals.”

“Our end goal is always to bring these criminals to justice. From 2016 to 2017, I was part of a major ransomware investigation. We located the criminals in Romania, but needed information on the victims in the Netherlands and other parts of Europe. Europol helped us get in contact with our Dutch colleagues, collect evidence and eventually arrest the cybercriminals.”

“Most cybercrimes are not limited to one single country. Without Europol’s support, we couldn’t solve these cases so quickly.”

 - Catalin Zetu

Catalin-Bogdan Badiu

Romanian, European Cybercrime Centre, Europol

The Netherlands

“My team supports cybercrime investigations led by law enforcement agencies across the EU and beyond. Starting in 2016, we helped Romanian and Dutch police investigate a series of ransomware attacks. The ransomware software had been developed in Romania, and it was used to infect computers in the Netherlands and other European countries. As the case progressed, I made sure Romanian and Dutch police had all the information available on the specific ransomware and the criminal group behind it. We were even on-site in Romania during the arrests.”

"Citizens aren’t alone in the fight against cyberattacks. All over Europe police are working against the clock to bring the criminals to justice."

 - Catalin-Bogdan Badiu

Petra Haandrikman

High Tech Crime unit, National Police

The Netherlands

“Our investigation in the Netherlands pointed to criminals in Romania. With Europol as the go-between, we stood side by side with our Romanian colleagues when they made arrests in 2017.”

“Around that time, we decided to create an international database with ransomware codes. A few ransomware victims had successfully unblocked their computers using these codes, and offered to share them with us. Europol helped us get support from cybercrime teams in other EU countries. IT security firms helped to build the website.”

“Ransomware is like a flu virus. So, why not vaccinate against it with the codes?”

 - Petra Haandrikman

Francisco Luís

Portuguese, European Cybercrime Centre, Europol

The Netherlands

“We set up an anti-ransomware platform named ‘No More Ransom’ with the Dutch police and IT security companies. The Romanian police were one of the first partners to join the online platform. They have provided decryption codes, which we’ve used to help victims of ransomware.”

“We wanted to make these codes available for free on the website. So far, our project has helped unblock over 100,000 ransomware-infected computers.”

“We’re working with law enforcement agencies and private companies to make cybercriminals’ lives a lot harder.”

 - Francisco Luís

Did you know?

Ransomware

A type of software that encrypts files and other documents on your computer, mobile phone or other devices. To access them, criminals will ask you to pay a ransom in exchange for a decryption key. Criminals are constantly inventing new forms of ransomware, but you should never pay and, instead, ask for help from authorities.

Operation Bakovia

A joint investigation carried out by Romanian and Dutch police in 2017, with support from Europol’s cybercrime experts. A group of Romanian nationals were suspected of sending ransomware (acquired on the Dark Net) to more than 170 victims across Europe.

50,000

The total number of ransomware victims between January and February 2018. For the entire year, the number of victims totals at least 600,000 globally.

No More Ransom

The No More Ransom website was launched in 2016 and is an initiative of the Netherlands' police, Europol's European Cybercrime Centre, McAfee and 129 partners from all over the world. Its goal is to offer victims decryption keys and tips on ransomware prevention, as well as inform them about how to report a ransomware crime.

€22 million

The amount of money kept out of criminals’ pockets since 2016, thanks to the No More Ransom decryption tools.

100000 +

The number of ransomware victims worldwide who were able to decrypt their files thanks to No More Ransom.

WHO ARE THE OTHER HEROES TACKLING CRIMINAL ACTIVITY?

Some of them may even come from your country.

Connected by the EU, there is a network of local heroes working together to help protect us from drug trafficking, radicalisation, cyberattacks and more. From police investigators to pilots, trade experts to medics, discover how the EU supports local heroes in your country.