2 Russians charged in multimillion-dollar malware scheme

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department unsealed charges Thursday against the alleged leader and an administrator of a Russian cyber-criminal gang that U.S. officials say developed and distributed malware used to steal at least $100 million from banks and other financial institutions in more than 40 countries over the past decade.

Separately, the Treasury Department said thatin collaboration with Britain’s National Crime Agencyit was freezing all assets of the two Russian men along with 15 other associates and seven Russian-based organizations including Evil Corp., their alleged umbrella group.

Charged in a 10-count indictment filed in federal court in Pittsburgh were Evil Corp.’s alleged leader, Maksim V. Yakubets, 32, of Moscow and Igor Turashev, 38, from Yoshkar-Ola, Russia. The charges include conspiracy, computer hacking, wire fraud, and bank fraud. The two men have not been arrested, their whereabouts are unknown. Russia and the U.S. do not have an extradition treaty.

In a statement, Treasury officials also accused Jakubets of recruiting cybercriminals for Russia’s government. According to the statement, he began working for FSB, a successor to the KGB spy agency, in 2017 and was tasked to work on projects including “acquiring confidential documents through cyber-enabled means and conducting cyber-enabled operations on its behalf.” The Treasury’s press office would not elaborate on those projects.

The State Department and the FBI are offering a $5 million reward for information leading to Yakubets’ arrest and conviction. Officials say that’s the largest reward ever offered for an accused cybercriminal.

Prosecutors say the charges filed Thursday stem from the creation of malware “Bugat” (also known as “Dridex”and “Kridex”) that automates the theft of credentials used to log into banks and other financial institutions. It was typically delivered through phishing emails that tricked users into entering their personal information at fake online banking websites, investigators said. The online thieves would then make unauthorized withdrawals .

Yakubets, who used the online moniker “aqua,” and Turashev are accused in the indictment of targeting two banks, a school district and four companies in Pennsylvania — a petroleum business, building supply company, vacuum and thin film deposition technology company and metal manufacturer — as well as a gun manufacturer.

The cybersecurity company FireEye said in an email that in the past year it has seen instances of Dridex infections being used not just for cybertheft but also to distribute ransomware to infected machines.

“Today’s announcement should make clear to those engaged in cybercrime that we will identify you, we will unmask you, and we will prosecute you, no matter how much effort it requires or how long it takes,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski, who heads the Justice Department’s criminal division.

Yakubets is also being charged in a separate case in Nebraska with allegedly conspiring to commit bank fraud in connection with other malware, authorities said.

Yakubets and his co-conspirators are alleged to have victimized 21 specific municipalities, banks, companies, and non-profit organizations in California, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Washington.

The case is not the first involving the cyber-racketeering ring. Two co-conspirators of Yakubets, both Ukrainian nationals, were extradited after their 2014 indictment and pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges, investigators said.


AP Technology Writer Frank Bajak in Boston contributed to this report.

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