A 38-year-old Russian hacker awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to account theft and ID trading on the black market. Peter Yuryevich Levashov used botnet to get unauthorized access to credentials and offered information for sale on the darknet. According to a report, he operated multiple botnets since the 1990s. His mode of operation was specifically focused on Kelihos which he used to send spam messages. Other than the Kelihos operation, he was setting up fraudulent schemes which he used to defraud many Americans.
Levashov has been marked as one of the most notorious hackers in the world, ranking 7th in Spamhaus’ World Worst Hackers. After a successful operational run, the Justice Department released a complaint filed against him and Alan M. Ralsky in 2008, for engaging in a fraudulent scheme called “Stock Spam Pump and Dump Scheme.” This scheme focused on deceiving people into buying cheap fake stocks with an expectation of getting a higher return in the future. Ralsky was arrested and handed a four-year jail term in 2009.
Aside from sending spam messages in bulk to victims and installing malware and ransomware on their computers, he advertised and sold dangerous malware. On April 7, 2017, the Spanish authorities acted on an international arrest warrant to detain him and later extradited him to the United States. According to the Justice Department, over 50,000 computers were infected by the Kelihos botnet at the time of his arrest.
Kenneth A. Blanco, an acting Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department’s criminal division said that they were able to intercept some of the Kelihos botnets through the strong cooperation between the law enforcement and experts from the private industries, as well as, the use of legal and technical tactics. The botnet interruption was as a result of the rule 41 warrant.
His arrest was earlier linked to political reasons. A report stated that Levashov fought hard to avoid the extradition as he claimed that the U.S. intended to get political information from him since he worked for Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party for 10 years. Also, it was believed that Levashov was involved in the U.S. election hacking, however, the FBI clarified that his arrest was solely based on his engagement in fraudulent activities.
Russia reacted to the extradition by requesting a counter extradition in September 2017. The Spanish high court, however, honored the extradition request to the United States after charging him with wire fraud and unauthorized interception of electronic communications. A report stated prosecutors sought to hand him a 52-year jail sentence.
The grand jury was presented with an indictment charging him with seven crimes. Levashov pleaded guilty to multiple counts including; “a count of causing damage to protected computers, a count of conspiracy, a count of wire fraud and a count of aggravated identity theft.”
In a statement, the FBI in combination with other agencies and the state will put in the same effort and dedication to protect the citizens from cyber-attacks. Even though the FBI attempted to make cybercrime a thing of the past, the individuals and organizations are also expected to update their antivirus software and be careful with the links they click.
Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski expressed his gratitude to the international law enforcement agencies, especially the Spanish authorities for their key role played in the arrest of the 38-year-old. He commended them for arresting and extraditing Levashov, showing how effective the collaboration with the international law enforcement agencies has been. Levashov has currently been held in federal lock up by U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny as he awaits his sentencing, which is scheduled to take place on September 6, 2019.