They accuse in the US a doctor in Venezuela of being behind ransomware

Washington (CNN) — U.S. prosecutors have charged a 55-year-old Venezuelan doctor with creating and selling widely used malware that cybercriminals used in extortion or ransomware attempts across multiple organizations.

Moisés Luis Zagala González is accused of creating a type of ransomware that burst onto the cybercriminal scene in 2019 and was used in multiple high-profile attacks on organizations in the Middle East, including some incidents involving Iranian government hackers.

Justice Department officials accused Zagala of building an elaborate cybercriminal enterprise, in which he had a personal financial and reputational interest in having his software used in successful hacks. The cardiologist continued to see patients while trafficking ransomware, according to the Justice Department.

An unusual case in ransomware

Zagala’s case is unusual in that he is much older than the typical cybercriminal suspect. Zagala, who US prosecutors say lives in the Venezuelan city of Ciudad Bolívar, also debunks the stereotype of ransomware actors hailing from Eastern Europe and Russia.

“We allege that Zagala not only created and sold ransomware products to hackers, but also trained them in their use,” Michael Driscoll, deputy director in charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office, said in a statement.

Zagala could not be reached for comment. The prospects of Zagala being arrested and extradited are uncertain, and the US and Venezuelan governments have been at loggerheads for years.

As part of the US investigation into Zagala, the FBI surreptitiously bought access to one of its hacking tools and relied on confidential informants in the cybercriminal world to build a case, the Justice Department said.

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