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2 Russian hackers charged by US DOJ in one of the world’s largest cybercrime sprees

A computer with code on the screen. (Pixabay/Released)
December 05, 2019

Federal prosecutors have charged two Russian nationals in an 11-state cybercrime spree across the U.S. described as one of the largest cybercrime sprees in history.

Maksim Yakubets and Igor Turashev were indicted in Pittsburgh and on charges of numerous malware intrusions, according to NBC News. Their targets reportedly included a Pennsylvania bank as well as other companies, a school district, and even a group of Chicago nuns.

According to charging documents, the two men also attacked targets in other states, including a natural gas company, a lumber company and the aforementioned Chicago nuns.

A Department of Justice press statement said the hacking efforts persisted for over a decade.

“For over a decade, Maksim Yakubets and Igor Turashev led one of the most sophisticated transnational cybercrime syndicates in the world,” said U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady. “Deploying ‘Bugat’ malware, also known as ‘Cridex’ and ‘Dridex,’ these cybercriminals targeted individuals and companies in western Pennsylvania and across the globe in one of the most widespread malware campaigns we have ever encountered.”

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Among the damages, Yakubets and Turashev reportedly gained $3 million from their illicit scheme while causing additional tens of millions in damages.

The two reportedly used emails mimicking legitimate companies, to get targets to open malware codes and allow their intrusion.

The Bugat malware is reportedly designed to defeat antivirus software and other measure employed by the hacking victim to stop the attack.

The DOJ press statement identified Turashev, 38, and Yakubets, 32, who went by the online moniker “aqua.”

Yakubets also reportedly holds ties with Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), according to NBC reporting. He is alleged to have led the hacking operation, described as one of the largest cybercrime sprees in U.S. history. Turashev reportedly acted as Yakubets’ assistant.

At a news conference to announce the charges, Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski said the attacks were some of “the worst computer hacking and bank fraud schemes of the past decade.”

Benczkowski described Yakubets as the “leader of a cybercriminal gang,” suggesting he may have led others in a broader hacking scheme.

The whereabouts of the two Russian men are unknown despite the announcement of the indictment. The U.S. Treasury Department has added the two to its list of targets for economic sanctions, the Office of Foreign Assets Control list.

The State Department and the FBI have also set a $5 million reward for information that results in Yakubets’ arrest and conviction.

The United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency (NCA) also announced criminal charges against the pair of hackers.