Pavel Vrublevsky, founder of the Russian payment technology firm ChronoPay and the antagonist in my 2014 book “Spam Nation,” was arrested in Moscow this month and charged with fraud. Russian authorities allege Vrublevsky operated several fraudulent SMS-based payment schemes, and facilitated money laundering for Hydra, the largest Russian darknet market. But according to information obtained by KrebsOnSecurity, it is equally likely Vrublevsky was arrested thanks to his propensity for carefully documenting the links between Russia’s state security services and the cybercriminal underground.
KrebsOnSecurity recently had occasion to contact the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), the Russian equivalent of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In the process of doing so, I encountered a small snag: The FSB’s website said in order to contact them securely, I needed to download and install an encryption and virtual private networking (VPN) appliance that is flagged by at least 20 antivirus products as malware.
The reason I contacted the FSB — one of the successor agencies to the Russian KGB — ironically enough had to do with security concerns raised about the FSB’s own preferred method of being contacted.