Russian hacker pleads guilty for role in massive botnet schemes

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Russian national Peter Levashov pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to controlling one of the world’s largest-ever botnets, known as Kelihos. First indicted more than a decade ago under different cybercrime allegations, Levashov was known as the “Spam King” before his arrest in Spain in 2017.

Levashov’s detainment punctuated the expanding American interest in arresting indicted Russian cybercriminals when they leave their home country — which notably does not extradite its own citizens. The battle to extradite Levashov mirrored others that have taken place around the world in the last several years between Moscow and Washington.

“For over two decades, Peter Levashov operated botnets which enabled him to harvest personal information from infected computers, disseminate spam, and distribute malware used to facilitate multiple scams,” Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski said in a statement Wednesday. “We are grateful to Spanish authorities for his previous arrest and extradition.”

Levashov’s network operated since 2010 and targeted Microsoft Windows machines for infection. The endgame was a tsunami of spam, password theft, the spread of malware and illegal pump-and-dump stock schemes.

The Russian was active well before Kelihos, however, and since the late 1990s he controlled various botnets as criminal moneymakers. Some of his other works include the Storm and Waledac botnets used to steal identities from victims.

“To further the scheme, Levashov disseminated spam and distributed other malware, such as banking Trojans and ransomware, and advertised the Kelihos botnet spam and malware services to others for purchase in order to enrich himself,” the Justice Department said in a statement. “Over the course of his criminal career, Levashov participated in and moderated various online criminal forums on which stolen identities and credit cards, malware and other criminal tools of cybercrime were traded and sold.”

Levashov specifically pleaded guilty to causing intentional damage to a personal computer, conspiracy, wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 6, 2019.

The Russian faces a 52-year prison sentence in the U.S. Last year, he told a Spanish court that the Americans would torture him for information because he worked for President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party for the last decade.

“If I go to the U.S., I will die in a year. They want to get information of a military nature and about the United Russia party,” Russia’s RIA news agency reported he said. “I will be tortured, within a year I will be killed, or I will kill myself.”

The Russians dismissed the report.

You can read the criminal complaint and application for a search warrant below:


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botnets, cybercrime, Kelihos, legal, Peter Levashov, Russia