Posts Tagged: Federal Security Service (FSB)

Apr 13

Phoenix Exploit Kit Author Arrested In Russia?

The creator of a popular crimeware package known as the Phoenix Exploit Kit was arrested in his native Russia for distributing malicious software and for illegally possessing multiple firearms, according to underground forum posts from the malware author himself.

The last version of the Phoenix Exploit Kit. Source:

The last version of the Phoenix Exploit Kit. Source:

The Phoenix Exploit Kit is a commercial crimeware tool that until fairly recently was sold by its maker in the underground for a base price of $2,200. It is designed to booby-trap hacked and malicious Web sites so that they foist drive-by downloads on visitors.

Like other exploit packs, Phoenix probes the visitor’s browser for the presence of outdated and insecure versions of browser plugins like Java, and Adobe Flash and Reader. If the visitor is unlucky enough to have fallen behind in applying updates, the exploit kit will silently install malware of the attacker’s choosing on the victim’s PC (Phoenix targets only Microsoft Windows computers).

The author of Phoenix — a hacker who uses the nickname AlexUdakov on several forums — does not appear to have been overly concerned about covering his tracks or hiding his identity. And as we’ll see in a moment, his online persona has been all-too-willing to discuss his current legal situation with former clients and fellow underground denizens. forum member AlexUdakov selling his Phoenix Exploit Kit. forum member AlexUdakov selling his Phoenix Exploit Kit.

For example, AlexUdakov was a member of, a fairly exclusive English-language cybercrime forum that I profiled last week. That post revealed that the administrator accounts for Darkode had been compromised in a recent break-in, and that the intruders were able to gain access to private communications of the administrators. That access included authority to view full profiles of Darkode members, as well as the private email addresses of Darkode members.

AlexUdakov registered at Darkode using the address “”. That email is tied to a profile at (a Russian version of Facebook) for one Andrey Alexandrov, a 23-year-old male (born May 20, 1989) from Yoshkar-Ola, a historic city of about a quarter-million residents situated on the banks of the Malaya Kokshaga river in Russia, about 450 miles east of Moscow.

ASK-74u rifles. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

AKS-74u rifles. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

That address also is connected to accounts at several Russian-language forums and Web sites dedicated to discussing guns, including and This is interesting because, as I was searching AlexUdakov’s Phoenix Exploit kit sales postings on various cybercrime forums, I came across him discussing guns on one of his sales threads at, a semi-exclusive underground forum. There, a user with the nickname AlexUdakov had been selling Phoenix Exploit Kit for many months, until around July 2012, when customers on began complaining that he was no longer responding to sales and support requests. Meanwhile, AlexUdakov account remained silent for many months.

Then, in February 2013, AlexUdakov began posting again, explaining his absence by detailing his arrest by the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Russian equivalent of the FBI. The Phoenix Exploit Kit author explained that he was arrested by FSB officers for distributing malware and the illegal possession of firearms, including two AKS-74U assault rifles, a Glock, a TT (Russian-made pistol), and a PM (also known as a Makarov).

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Jun 12

Who Is the ‘Festi’ Botmaster?

Pavel Vrublevsky, the co-founder of Russian payment processor ChronoPay, is set to appear before a judge this week in a criminal case in which he is accused of hiring a botmaster to attack a competitor. Prosecutors believe that the man Vrublevsky hired in that attack was the curator of the Festi botnet, a spam-spewing machine that also has been implicated in a number of high-profile denial-of-service assaults.

Igor Artimovich

Vrublevsky spent six months in prison last year for his alleged role in an attack against Assist, the company that was processing payments for Aeroflot, Russia’s largest airline. Aeroflot had opened its contract for processing payments to competitive bidding, and ChronoPay was competing against Assist and several other processors.

Investigators with the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) last summer arrested a St. Petersburg man named Igor Artimovich in connection with the attacks. Artimovich — known in hacker circles by the handle “Engel” — confessed to having used his botnet to attack Assist after receiving instructions and payment from Vrublevsky.

As I wrote in last year’s piece, the allegations against Artimovich and Vrublevsky were supported by evidence collected by Russian computer forensics firm Group-IB, which assisted the FSB with the investigation. Group-IB presented detailed information on the malware and control servers used to control more than 10,000 infected PCs, and shared with investigators screen shots of the botnet control panel (pictured below) allegedly used to coordinate the DDoS attack against Assist.

Group-IB’s evidence suggested Artimovich had used a botnet he called Topol-Mailer to launch the attacks, but Topol-Mailer is more commonly known as Festi, one of the world’s largest and most active spam botnets. As detailed by researchers at NOD32 Antivirus makers ESET, Festi was built not just for spam, but to serve as a very powerful tool for launching distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, digital sieges which use hacked machines to flood targets with so much meaningless traffic that they can no longer accommodate legitimate visitors.

“Topol Mailer” botnet interface allegedly used by Artimovich.

Group-IB said Artimovich’s botnet was repeatedly used to attack several rogue pharmacy programs that were competing with Rx-Promotion, a rogue Internet pharmacy affiliate program long rumored to have been co-founded by Vrublevsky (security firm Dell SecureWorks chronicled those attacks last year).

Artimovich allegedly used the nickname Engel on, an online forum owned by the co-founders of SpamIt and GlavMed, sister rogue pharmacy operations that competed directly with Rx-promotion. In the screen shot below right, Engel can be seen communicating with Spamdot member and SpamIt affiliate “Docent.” That was the nickname used by Oleg Nikolaenko, a 24-year-old Russian man arrested in Las Vegas in Nov. 2010  charged with operating the Mega-D botnet. Continue reading →