Police in Canada have charged a man with participating in ransomware campaigns that have extorted millions from victims around the world.

Russian-Canadian national Mikhail Vasiliev, 33, is alleged to have been a major player in the LockBit ransomware campaign, which targeted victims with demands for payments to release stolen and encrypted data.

Since it was first detected in January 2020, LockBit has been deployed on more than 1,000 victims across the globe. Among them was Holiday Inn, which saw personal details on its customers released after one of its establishments in Turkey was hacked.

More than $100 million (£83 million) in ransom demands have been issued as a direct result of LockBit, with the US Department of Justice claiming that “tens of millions” worth of demands have been paid.

Vasiliev himself is said to have been behind a great deal of this, with Europol claiming he issued ransoms of up to €70 million (£60 million). It called him “one of the world’s most prolific ransomware operators”.

Vasiliev is accused of conspiring with others to intentionally damage protected computers and to transmit ransom demands in connection with doing so. If found guilty he could face up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 (£208,000) or twice the gain from his actions – whichever is greater.

His arrest came after an investigation involving forces across the USA, Canada and Europe – going on for two and a half years. He is currently awaiting extradition to New Jersey.

Europol has said that, when arresting Vasiliev, police seized eight computers and 32 external hard drives as well as €400,000 (£344,000) in cryptocurrencies.

In announcing Vasiliev’s arrest, U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger warned: “International ransomware threats like LockBit are the most pressing cybercrime challenge facing law enforcement today.

“These attacks cause disruption and damage to their victims that far exceed the dollar figures of ransom demands or payments, which are themselves significant. However, the United States is up for this challenge and will use all legal means to find the perpetrators of these attacks and bring them to justice.”