NetWalker affiliate sentenced to 20 years in prison
Image: Emiliano Bar, The Record
Adam Janofsky October 4, 2022

NetWalker affiliate sentenced to 20 years in prison

NetWalker affiliate sentenced to 20 years in prison

A Canadian affiliate of the NetWalker ransomware group was sentenced to 20 years in prison Tuesday for his role in a hacking campaign targeting a Florida company.

Sebastien Vachon-Desjardins, a 34-year-old from Quebec, had already been sentenced to seven years in prison by a Canadian judge earlier this year. He was then extradited to the U.S. in March and charged with hacking into a Tampa-based company in May 2020.

In the Tuesday sentencing, U.S. District Judge William Jung went above the 12-to-15-year prison term suggested by federal guidelines in an effort to make an example out of Vachon-Desjardins, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

“You have one of the worst cases I’ve ever seen,” the judge told the defendant. “This is Jesse James meets the 21st century.”

According to court documents, Vachon-Desjardins made tens of millions of dollars in a hacking spree that lasted only about a year. As part of a plea agreement, Vachon-Desjardins agreed to forfeit $21.5 million and dozens of seized devices.

The charges against Vachon-Desjardins — related to computer fraud, wire fraud, and damaging computers — carried a combined maximum prison sentence of 40 years, but he agreed to cooperate in exchange for leniency. Jude Jung suggested he would have sentenced Vachon-Desjardins to life in prison if he had gone to trial, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Although NetWalker at the time of Vachon-Desjardins’ attacks was one of the most prolific ransomware groups, law enforcement authorities in the U.S., Canada, and Bulgaria managed to take over the group’s servers in January 2021 — the same time they unsealed the indictment against Vachon-Desjardins.

As part of his sentencing on Tuesday, Vachon-Desjardins was ordered to serve three years of supervised release after he leaves prison, and is prohibited from owning a computer — including a smartphone or electronic device capable of connecting to the internet — or holding information technology jobs. Prosecutors said Vachon-Desjardins was working in IT for the Canadian government while conducting ransomware attacks.

Sebastien Vachon-Desjardins sentencing

Adam is the founding editor-in-chief of The Record by Recorded Future. He previously was the cybersecurity and privacy reporter for Protocol, and prior to that covered cybersecurity, AI, and other emerging technology for The Wall Street Journal.