Pavel Vrublevsky, the owner of Russian payments firm ChronoPay and the subject of an upcoming book by this author, was sentenced to two-and-half years in a Russian penal colony this week after being found guilty of hiring botmasters to attack a rival payment processing firm.
Vrublevsky was accused of hiring Igor and Dmitri Artimovich in 2010 to use their Festi spam botnet to attack Assist, a competing payments firm. Prosecutors allege that the resulting outage at Assist prevented Russian airline Aeroflot from selling tickets for several days, costing the company millions of dollars.
According to Russian prosecutors, Vrublevsky directed ChronoPay’s chief security officer Maxim Permyakov to pay $20,000 and hire the Artimovich brothers to launch the attacks. The Artimovich brothers also were found guilty and sentenced to 2.5 years. Permyakov received a slightly lighter sentence of two years after reportedly assisting investigators in the case.
Earlier this year, I signed a 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. Those charges stem from Gusev’s 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.
For more background on Vrublevsky and his case, check out these two stories from the Russian publication Novya Gazeta. This entry is the latest in my Pharma Wars series, which documents the rise and fall of the pharmacy spam business and how a simmering grudge match between Gusev and Vrublevsky ultimately brought down their respective businesses.
It might be tempting to conclude from Vrublevsky’s sentencing that perhaps the Russian government is starting to crack down on cybercriminal behavior in its own backyard. But all the evidence I’ve seen suggests this is merely the logical outcome of bribes paid by Gusev to some of Russia’s most powerful, payments that were meant to secure the opening of a criminal case against Vrublevsky. In Paying for Prosecution and The Price of (in)Justice, I highlight chat logs leaked from Gusev’s operations that show him making preparations to pay more than $1.5 million to Russian politicians and law enforcement to obtain a criminal prosecution of Vrublevsky.