June 5, 2013

Pavel Vrublevsky, the owner of Russian payments firm ChronoPay and the subject of an upcoming book by this author, was arrested today in Moscow for witness intimidation in his ongoing trial for allegedly hiring hackers to attack against Assist, a top ChronoPay competitor.

Pavel Vrublevsky's Facebook profile photo.

Pavel Vrublevsky’s Facebook profile photo.

Vrublevsky is on trial for allegedly hiring two brothers — Igor and Dmitri Artimovich — to use their Festi spam botnet to attack Assist, a competing payments processor. Prosecutors allege that the resulting outage at Assist prevented Russian airline Aeroflot from selling tickets for several days, costing the company at least USD $1 million.

Vrublevsky was imprisoned for six months in 2011 pending his trial, but was released at the end of that year after admitting to his role in the attack. Later, he recanted his jailhouse admission of guilt. Today, he was re-arrested after admitting to phoning a witness in his ongoing trial and offering “financial assistance.” The witness told prosecutors he felt pressured and threatened by the offer.

Two months ago, I signed a book deal with Sourcebooks Inc. to publish several years worth of research on the business of spam, fake antivirus and rogue Internet pharmacies, shadow economies and that were aided immensely by ChronoPay and — according to my research — by Vrublevsky himself.

Vrublevsky co-founded ChronoPay in 2003 along with Igor Gusev, another Russian businessman who is facing criminal charges in Russia stemming from his alleged leadership role at GlavMed and SpamIt, sister programs that until recently were the world’s largest rogue online pharmacy affiliate networks. Huge volumes of internal documents leaked from ChronoPay in 2010 indicate Vrublevsky ran a competing rogue Internet pharmacy — Rx-Promotion — although Vrublevsky publicly denies this.

My previous reporting also highlights Vrublevsky’s and ChronoPay’s role in nurturing the market for fake antivirus or scareware products. One such story, published just days before Vrublevsky’s initial arrest, showed how ChronoPay executives set up the domains and payment systems for MacDefender, a scareware scam that targeted millions of Mac users.

I found this development noteworthy because I, too, was offered financial assistance by Vrublevsky, an offer that very much seemed to me like a threat. In mid-2010, after thousands of emails, documents and hundreds of hours of recorded phonecalls from ChronoPay were leaked to  this author, Vrublevsky began calling me at least once a day from his offices in Moscow. This continued for more than six months. In one conversation from May 2010 , Vrublevsky offered to fly me to Moscow so that I could see firsthand that he had “only a very remote relationship with this case.”

“My proposition to you is to  come to Moscow, and if you don’t have money….I realize journalists are not such wealthy people in America, we’re happy to pay for it,” Vrublevsky said in a phone conversation on May 8, 2010.

When I politely declined his invitation, Vrublevsky laughed and said I was wrong to feel like I was being bribed or intimidated.

“It’s quite funny that you think somehow when you fly to meet me in Moscow or ChronoPay offices that you are in any possible danger from me for being murdered,” Vrublevsky said. “Come to Moscow and see for yourself. Take your notebook, come to my office.  Sit in front of me and look around. Because you’re getting information, which, to be honest, is not factual.”

As I note in my book (due to be published in late Summer 2014) I believe Vrublevsky’s intention was more to somehow secure my future silence than to set the record straight. I did, however, eventually come to Moscow and interview him at his ChronoPay offices.

According to Russian news outlet Vedomosti, Vrublevsky is likely to spend another six months in prison for this latest stunt. He faces an additional two years in prison if he is ultimately found guilty of orchestrating the attacks on his company’s rival.

86 thoughts on “Vrublevsky Arrested for Witness Intimidation

  1. Ssam

    Why is this stuff so big in russia? It must be social acceptable to be involved in stuff like this otherwise there wouldn’t be so many people involved in spam and malware. I guess another thought would be because there are many technical people with not enough jobs, but that doesn’t really seem entirely true.

    Any insight on this?

    1. Peter

      Russia is extremely corrupt meaning that if you have money you can get away with a lot.

      The Russian government is also implicit in a fair amount themselves. Although a different subject It is pretty certain Alexander Litvinenko was killed in London with the OK of the Russian government. A law was even past pretty much making it legal to murder in other countries.

      1. Sam

        I doubt all these people involved have great deals of money to the point where they can just ignore the laws, unless it really is just that corrupt. It just seems like a cultural difference that should be changed, although we all know changes in culture take a long time to take place.

      2. Neej

        Yes and now what does this remind me of … oh that’s right the United States has been doing this for some years now as well.

    2. bob

      Russia is falling to bits. It’s continued resemblance to anything like a unified state is based on general consensus amongst the oligarchs that it’s the best way to increase their empires. Putin is a larger than life character designed to draw attention from the countries descent into chaos.

    3. @@@

      Low wages make people with brains and moral make illegal schemes for proper profit, not all of these ‘criminals’ mentioned in this blog are evil guys with cruel intentions, they just want to live well applying knowleges they have. Of course it doesn’t excuse their actions but this is the fact.
      I’m speaking about Russia and CIS

  2. Mackke

    That’s what you get after 70 years of Communism
    squeezes out any notion of Rule of Law. Putin is
    the Godfather of criminals in that nation, and
    maybe even the world. How many journalists
    and other opponents to his style of rule has he
    had beaten or murdered? He supports all the
    rogue nations. He regularly extorts Europe
    due to their need of Russian energy products.

    1. v.

      I can see no similarities there with the U.S. at all. Mmhmm.

  3. DD

    I’m looking forward to reading the book next summer.

  4. Aleksey

    In other news: pharma affiliate programs GlavMed and SpamIt are temporarily reducing the commission paid to its members by 15%. “We had an unexpected increase in our GR costs recently, and have to take this step to cover this significant expense.” commented Igor Gusev of GlavMed.

  5. charisse castagnoli

    You are a brave man – I like Russian people, food and architecture well enough – but treading into the underground is something I would not do

  6. Hayton

    The book should be well worth waiting for.

    Pavel Vrublevsky has re-invented himself, apparently, as a champion of the good guys. It’s all there in his blog ….

    “Pavel Vrublevsky has been actively involved in fighting cyber-crime in Russia. He helped introduce anti-spam legislation and participated in various cyber-crime investigations including the closure of the Spamit.com affiliate program”

    We are talking about the same person, no doubt about it. Time perhaps for our friend to write his autobiography 🙂

  7. David

    IMO it seems like these guys are extremely intelligent compared to other countries, the problem is they don’t have the same ethics as the rest of the civilized world (if we consider ourselves civilized). Look back at our own history. Industrialists around the 19th century weren’t much better.
    Russians have endured a lot of hardships for the past few hundred or so years. Why is it so shocking that their running wild? I have many Russian friends and they are very smart people who work hard. Granted they don’t have a huge consideration for the laws that are in place, can you blame them?

    They have been oppressed, one leader after another. After awhile all the rules go out the window because it hurts them more to go along with the show than stake your own claim.

    The constant theme I see is that people want a quick fix to a problem that is much larger than individuals or small groups.
    Russia along with many other countries need serious leadership reform but I highly doubt it will happen in my life time…

  8. Richard Steven Hack

    I don’t think it’s possible or reasonable to conclude that one country or another is “more criminal” than the rest.

    Asia has mountains of corruption, as does South America and Africa.

    We hold up (Western) Europe and the US as somehow being less corrupt – but where’s the actual evidence? Have we forgotten the massive business scandals that have occurred in the US? Similar scandals in Europe?

    I prefer to agree with the words of Jack Osborne, the corrupt American in the movie “Gorky Park”:

    “You see, corruption is part of us. All of us. The very heart of us.”

    If you’re in “the system” to any significant extent, you’re probably corrupt to some degree or another.

    1. CooloutAC

      When it comes to cybercrime….and citizens robbing foreigners. Russia is top of the list by far with noone even close.

    2. George G

      “We hold up (Western) Europe and the US as somehow being less corrupt – but where’s the actual evidence?”

      From the corruption index list of Transparency International (182 countries listed, lower number = less corruption) :
      United States #24
      Russia tied for #143
      Ukraine tied for #152

      1. voksalna

        Those numbers are misleading. You can’t measure something like corruption that way. Heck you couldn’t even measure something like corruption via criminal cases. That’s actually the NATURE of corruption, in a lot of cases.

        I’d also question, are a lot of little bribes (giving somebody $1 or $5 value) to be considered more corruption than giving politicians millions of those dollars via a PAC?

        Cronyism and favouritism and nepotism, and a whole lot of other -isms that I don’t even know the words for go on all the time, and that isn’t something that will show up in these sorts of rankings either.

        It’s all biased. Anything like this would have to inherently be, and anybody who’d compile these numbers are only limited by the data they can get (and their own biases).

        1. George G

          “Those numbers are misleading”

          According to whom ?
          According to those who do not like the numbers, who do not like the truth.

          Transparency International is a widely respected organization, known for its objectivity and competence.

        2. mishka

          They do think that “corruption index” measures corruption, while it measures perception of corruption 🙂
          They do think that US has no corruption while it’s so corrupted they even licensing it (lobbying) 🙂

          1. voksalna

            I know but I keep waiting for people to see things. It does not happen. 🙁

          2. George G

            To Mishka :

            “They do think that US has no corruption … ”
            Where does it say or imply that ??

            Even if I concede that the measure shows perception of corruption that is a proper one in this case.
            Corruption is mostly guided by perception. If one believes one can bribe you and get away with it, one will.

            1. CooloutAC

              US ranks 24 and Russia ranks 143 hahah.

              I bet voksalna thinks the usa is behind these scores….lmao.

              I’m curious where does Russia rank on healthcare?

              I just heard of a cousin of mine, who stayed in russia to go to school, and recenlty died of celiac disease over there which is supposed to be non fatal. and i hear these russian hackers using poor health care as an excuse to rob people.

              But i always thought Russia ranks higher then #32 which is where the usa ranks for healthcare? So i’m wondering if she died for other reasons…

              1. CooloutAC

                haha i looked at corruption perception list.

                Even Mexico is less corrupt then Russia hahahaha.

              2. voksalna

                Died of ‘celiac disease’ eh? You do realise that ‘celiac disease’ rests on personal responsibility right? Don’t eat wheat, no symptoms. And it is not like the USA — it is very easy to find food without wheat. Don’t be delusional. Look at what your country is trying to get away with right now, this very week.

                1. CooloutAC

                  it was her fault she got the disease? what? sure a gluten free diet is how u live with it. Are u trying to imply she ate herself to death as a sucide attempt? lol. Your a twisted person. I doubt that. She was a young ambitious college girl.

                  but what is even more important is medical follow ups. And apparenlty Russia has some of the worst healthcare in all of the world. worse then alot of 3rd world countries. That is just pitiful.

                  sounds like once again. you can rationalize anything. Always the users fault huh? typical delusional hacker response.

  9. toad

    Spoken like a true anarchist, “Me first and who gives a damn about you.”

    Are most people and all politicians corrupt, at least to some extent? Probably. So that means everyone should grab whatever he can and to hell with everyone else?

    The point of rule of law is to reduce the corruption to the amount society can live with. It’s like the old saying, “People aren’t really good, they’ve just learned how to behave when someone else is watching.” If you can’t see a difference between minor corruption in an otherwise decent system and major corrpution throughout the system, then I sincerely hope some anarchist does something to you so you get the point.

    1. Chris Hansen

      Spoken like nature is, if you’ve ever observed it. What do you think people at the top of the food chain do?

      1. CooloutAC

        I really don’t see warren buffet that way. And tk God he steered Bill Gates away from the dark side. I think Gates is trying for sainthood or something haha….maybe hes dying.

        they discontinuing xp though that pisses me off. I don’t think it will push most companies to upgrade….I think they will just be even less secure now hahah.

      2. CooloutAC

        instead of going after pedophiles for looking at 17 yr olds……and government officials for using foul language in an email, or exposing some redneck sheriff for letting the quarterback out of jail.

        Maybe groups like anonymous should make a real diff in the world and go after other hackers. They are the black plague, the biggest criminal enterprises and the biggest terrorists. They are the biggest EVIL in the world imo.

        but maybe we should let nature take its course. I just hope it doesn’t get too violent before society changes its attitude.

    2. Neej

      I don’t think this has much relevance to anarchist ideologies at all.

  10. john senchak

    I can’t wait to read that book, it should contain some real interesting chapters

  11. HUNTER

    not new in russia , in long time i’m exploited russia company software develop with more data, they real like malware,
    in some projects theft by me in long time , i know they and economy fakeAV and RX-promo ,they real leader Mafia Tech

    “data will leak soon”!

  12. Scott S

    If you lived in a country where the rule of the gun rather that “reason” ethics is in place you soon learn that to survive you have to be as corrupt as the system that oppresses you.

  13. AlphaCentauri

    The idea that you owe the same moral duty to people of other nationalities that you owe to members of your own group is not universal.

    Russians don’t think it’s that big a deal to steal, as long as one doesn’t steal from other Russians. They’re not shy about admitting they steal from Westerners. They apparently don’t expect the type of negative social repercussions from their friends and neighbors that they would get if they were known to be stealing form Russian citizens.

    1. CooloutAC

      Just like cyber activist groups like anonymous….never expose other hackers…..

    2. Uzzi

      Sorry, Alpha, but isn’t it the same in America? (Leaving aside the fact that they recently ruined your environment, burned your money and stole your jobs away to china maximizing their own profits offshore? – And people still celebrate them as “america’s leading elites” rather than to send them to hell… */shrug*)

      1. CooloutAC

        and sending jobs to russia, india, pakistan…etc…..

        And some of you have to the nerve to talk shit about my country after we outsource jobs to you?

        and its not the same. Because do you think its common for American citizens to rob people from your countries? no.

        No, we have americans helping you foreigners rob other Americans. while you also take the legit computer jobs. and complain you need healthcare.

        when america is ranked 32nd in the world for health care. We have alot of poor people and people out of work here too.

        1. Uzzi

          Uh? Americans not just only rob people from other countries they even enslave them, poison their land and food, corrupt and kill their leaders and terrorize their citizen if they don’t hand over their resources… but wait, you think that’s “business”.

          And no, America ceased to be an autonomous country when you joned The United Federation of Chimerica. ;-P

          1. CooloutAC

            Give examples in the 21st century please, or its all just hot air. and even if its true is that how you justify yourself?

            And i’m not even talking about my gov’t or any major corporations.

            I’m talking about how most ordinary American citizens are diff then russians online. You guys turn into barbarians in the mountains claiming your fighting rome, and we act civilized.

            1. voksalna

              It has already been established repeatedly that reason and examples with specific citations do not get into your head. 🙂 If you want these examples you need not go any further than a web search engine. Which only means you do not want anything counter to your opinions. Bye.

      2. v.

        Don’t even bother with this CooloutAC guy. He’s delusionally stupid.

      3. AlphaCentauri

        My point isn’t that there aren’t criminals in the US, or that they don’t steal from foreigners, but that if they were stealing credit card numbers from Russians, they would be just as unwilling to have it made public as they would if they were stealing from other US citizens. They might be more willing to be known to steal from “a big corporation,” or “the IRS,” or another non-human entity, but you don’t generally have the type of nationalism that still exists in Russia.

    3. Yury

      >Russians don’t think it’s that big a deal to steal, as long as one doesn’t steal from other Russians.

      That’s false. There are some people in every society that think that it is OK steal — there are such people in Russia, in the United States, and all other countries. But the vast majority of people think that stealing is immoral, no matter whether you steal from your countrymen or foreigners. The main difference between Russia and the United States is that those few people who think that stealing is OK can run their criminal businesses in Russia without being prosecuted; while if they were in the United States, they would be prosecuted.

  14. Ctebel

    Sorry, Brian, not “Vedemosti” but “VedOmosti”.
    Thank you for the article, trying to get the whole picture.

  15. Haggis

    “It’s quite funny that you think somehow when you fly to meet me in Moscow or ChronoPay offices that you are in any possible danger from me for being murdered,” Vrublevsky said.

    Love it lol

  16. Me love you long time

    Brian loves his Russian Friends .Me love you long time .

  17. Mackke

    Are you feeling ok physically? I just ask because the
    Russians are very good with “delayed reaction poisoning”.
    Brian, thank you for going halfway around this planet
    to get your readers more of the story. And it IS a damned
    dangerous place, is the R.F..

    1. KONG

      SQL injection is the King and you know it .

      To be continued ..

  18. Cooper Rogers

    As a result, hiring an experience software development organization is extremely vial for your projects.

  19. Drafty

    Is that a sword in his hand?

    … … …
    Witness intimidation, you say?

    1. BrianKrebs Post author

      Yes, it is a sword. When I visited him in that office, he had two swords on the wall flanking a Soviet flag and a giant Soviet-era map of the world. The sword, he told me, was given to him by a gangster/criminal from Dagestan.

  20. Vladimir Putin junior

    Brian i tell you something.Your nose is getting deeper and deeper in to the Russian dirty laundry .One day you may go to sleep and never wake up .That is how it usually ends anyway .Anna Politkovskaya is one example .Just saying you better be careful with them trips to Russia , fatal car accidents are very common thing in Russian .

  21. Sastray

    Until Brian’s book comes out, what are the most highly regarded works on the current state of cybercrime? It’s so hard for me to parse the hype.

    1. Chris Hansen

      Someone claiming to encompass the state of cybercrime in a book is hype.

  22. CooloutAC

    Mexico is less corrupt then Russia….LMAO.

      1. CooloutAC

        I always say universal healthcare…or better healthcare….will stop alot of crime and mass shootings….

        1. CooloutAC

          I have a cousin who lived and went to school in Russia, who just recently died from celiac disease which is supposed to be non fatal. They said it was the poor health care system. Now i believe it. wow.

  23. propRev

    CooloutAC is part of TEAM AMERICA FUCK YEAHHH!!!

    seriously it can only be a troll..cannot be serious with that propaganda bullshit….or maybe it is……

    1. CooloutAC

      and what team are you part of?

      One of the things Hillary will be most remembered for is updating the state department. Or I should say upgrading…lol and yes she was very serious when she said the same thing, even referring to online social networks.

      Love how you refer to me as “it”…lol Even though i’m a human being. Just shows your lack of empathy, probably due to taking advantage of people on the pc all day. How could you live with your conscious otherwise. You would make a good murderer.

      Thats one thing soldiers do in wars. Refer to the enemy as something inhuman. Like dogs, monkeys….etc…..makes it easier to kill.

      Its funny though, then you want my country to have empathy for you when you are droned?

      1. CooloutAC

        Hillary basically stressed the point that we need more of a presence online. That we have to start taking it more seriously.

        1. CooloutAC

          and if you are American shame on you. The problem is all you see is anti american hate online. from foreigners and Americans themselves. and what is sad is that only Americans talk shit about their own country online. You won’t hear Russians talking sbad about Russia. And i’d say our country is still the greatest in comparison in many ways.

          And whats really sad, is that online is just full of criminals, spies, nuts, and computer nerds. And really, even in this internet age, it does not reflect the reality of societies…… but more and more people will believe the hype…..and that will be a problem for us in the future. as fake as it is…

    2. voksalna

      I have seen his other postings in other places where he gets driven away. Is not a troll. :/

      1. CooloutAC

        driven away? lol Hopefully Mr K. doesn’t ban me.

    1. Uzzi

      Basically Mrs. Clinton said you’re losing ‘The Infowar’ because “US media remains obsessed with polarizing left-right talking head nonsense […] which is not particularly informative”. – Sorry, but that reminds me of someone… you’re working for the media? ;-P

      1. CooloutAC

        “The U.S. government contracted HBGary Federal for the development of software which could create multiple fake social media profiles to manipulate and sway public opinion on controversial issues by promoting propaganda.”

        which is what other countries already do. which is what your doing on this blog free of charge. the internet is one big soft power resource, and America is not using it enough.

        1. CooloutAC

          The women in your countries are the ones always on our side. 😉

  24. AlphaCentauri

    @Windy: probably a forum spammer whose information got mangled with yours:



  25. AlphaCentauri

    @CooloutAC: Russians often have difficulty with English 3rd person pronouns. It probably wasn’t intentional.

    1. voksalna

      “seriously it can only be a troll..cannot be serious with that propaganda bullshit….or maybe it is……”

      It = all of his posts.

      1. CooloutAC

        he voksalna since your a fan of my music. heres a rap i did last summer you’ll prolly like it. Its a cover of an El-P song called Patriotism. You know that guy i’m in the pic with when they were making fun of me on that esr website…lmao.


        btw I think Deltron Zero is returning this year> heres a taste of the past. 13 years ago. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YWNXBEP2CkA

        1. CooloutAC

          Oh i see the Russian guy thought i was a bot lol. I meant a *company flow song.

        2. voksalna

          You trying to get a light, but yet the crowd is my paid hecklers (BOO! BOO!)
          You just stepped into the spectrum of paranoid word rainbows…

          Hypocrisy sucks does it not?

Comments are closed.