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Dutch university wins big after Bitcoin ransom returned

After a ransomware attack in 2019, Maastricht University will get half a million euros back

After a ransomware attack in 2019, Maastricht University will get half a million euros back

Part of a Bitcoin ransom paid by Maastricht University three years ago has been returned and, thanks to a more than tenfold increase in the cryptocurrency's value, the cyberattack victims have even made a profit, local news reported on Saturday.

The university was hit with a ransomware attack in 2019 that locked them, and their students, out of valuable data until they agreed to pay a €200,000 ($208,000) ransom in Bitcoin.

"The criminals had encrypted hundreds of Windows servers and backup systems, preventing 25,000 students and employees from accessing scientific data, library and mail," the daily Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant said.

The university agreed to pay the attackers after a week. "This was partly because personal data was in danger of being lost and students were unable to take an exam or work on their theses," the newspaper said.

Ransom windfall

As part of an investigation into the cyberattack, Dutch police tracked down a bank account belonging to a money launderer in Ukraine, into which a relatively small amount of the ransom money — around €40,000 worth of Bitcoin — had been paid.

Prosecutors were able to seize the account in 2020 and found a number of different cryptocurrencies.

The authorities were then able to return the ransom back to the university after more than two years. But the value of the Bitcoin held in the Ukrainian account has increased from its then-value of €40,000 to €500,000.

"This money will not go to a general fund, but into a fund to help financially strapped students," Maastricht University ICT director Michiel Borgers said.

De Volkskrant reported that the investigation is still ongoing as police search for those responsible for the attack.

Even without the rest of the original ransom being returned, the university has more than doubled its 2019 payout.

ab/nm (AFP, dpa)