In 2020, the United States brought charges against four men accused of building a bulletproof hosting empire that once dominated the Russian cybercrime industry and supported multiple organized cybercrime groups. All four pleaded guilty to conspiracy and racketeering charges. But there is a fascinating and untold backstory behind the two Russian men involved, who co-ran Russia’s most popular spam forum for years.
Denis Emelyantsev, a 36-year-old Russian man accused of running a massive botnet called RSOCKS that stitched malware into millions of devices worldwide, pleaded guilty to two counts of computer crime violations in a California courtroom this week. The plea comes just months after Emelyantsev was extradited from Bulgaria, where he told investigators, “America is looking for me because I have enormous information and they need it.”
A 36-year-old Russian man recently identified by KrebsOnSecurity as the likely proprietor of the massive RSOCKS botnet has been arrested in Bulgaria at the request of U.S. authorities. At a court hearing in Bulgaria this month, the accused hacker requested and was granted extradition to the United States, reportedly telling the judge, “America is looking for me because I have enormous information and they need it.”
Authorities in the United States, Germany, the Netherlands and the U.K. last week said they dismantled the “RSOCKS” botnet, a collection of millions of hacked devices that were sold as “proxies” to cybercriminals looking for ways to route their malicious traffic through someone else’s computer. While the coordinated action did not name the Russian hackers allegedly behind RSOCKS, KrebsOnSecurity has identified its owner as a Russian man living abroad who also runs the world’s top Russian spamming forum.
The Russian government has for the past four years been fighting to keep 29-year-old alleged cybercriminal Alexei Burkov from being extradited by Israel to the United States. When Israeli authorities turned down requests to send him back to Russia — supposedly to face separate hacking charges there — the Russians then imprisoned an Israeli woman for seven years on trumped-up drug charges in a bid to trade prisoners. That effort failed as well, and Burkov had his first appearance in a U.S. court last week. What follows are some clues that might explain why the Russians are so eager to reclaim this young man.
Employee and financial records leaked from some of the world’s largest sponsors of spam provide new clues about the identity of a previously unknown Russian man believed to have been closely tied to the development and maintenance of “Bredolab,” a massive collection of hacked machines that was disassembled in an international law enforcement sweep in late 2010.
In October 2010, Armenian authorities arrested 27-year-old Georg Avanesov on suspicion of running Bredolab, a botnet that infected an estimated 3 million PCs per month through virus-laden e-mails and booby-trapped Web sites. The arrest resulted from a joint investigation between Armenian police and cyber sleuths in the Netherlands, whose ISPs were home to at least 143 servers used to direct the botnet’s activities.