FBI is sweeping up Russian hackers in a global dragnet

A Russian hacker arrested in Spain this past weekend is the latest suspect swept up in a global dragnet that U.S. officials hope will yield intelligence on Russian government interference in November’s presidential election. Russian Hacker Busted in Spain Latest in Global U.S. Roundup:

At least six Russians have been arrested in Europe on international warrants over the past several months, according to McClatchy Newspapers. The most recent arrest was Friday in Barcelona, where a 32-year-old Russian computer programmer was nabbed.

Pyotr Levashov, 32, was arrested Friday. A tweet from the Spanish National Police said that “In cooperation with the FBI, one of the most wanted cybercriminals has been detained in Barcelona. He is accused of scamming and data theft.” The U.S. has charged that Levashov is spam kingpin Peter Severa, who is closely associated with Russia’s most active cyber criminals.

According to Russian television, quoting Levashov’s wife, armed police stormed into their apartment in Barcelona and quizzed her husband for two hours. Later in a phone conversation from a Spanish jail, Maria Levashov said her husband told her the arrest was “linked to Trump’s election win.”

However, a U.S. official familiar with the arrest said authorities have not yet determined if Levashov was part of the political hacking operation.

“It is to-be-determined whether he had anything to do with the WikiLeaks hack or the Russian role in the election. He was being looked at on other cyber issues, so he will be asked about the elections,” said the official.

A former high-ranking U.S. intelligence official said the operation and other arrests are part of a broad attack on Russian hackers, some of whom may have information on the election hacking.

U.S. intelligence officials and cyber experts have long reported that the Russian security services use “patriotic” hackers to carry out attacks on intelligence targets. The hackers have the expertise and their operations can’t be easily traced back to the security services. If hackers decline to help out, said one official, they can find themselves in trouble with Russian authorities.

In addition to Levashov, international warrants have been served on at least five others, according to McClatchy:

Stanislav Lisov, a computer programmer from Taganrog, on Russia’s Black Sea coast, was also grabbed in Barcelona, arrested at the city’s international airport with his wife on January 13. Spanish Civil Guard police arrested him on an FBI warrant issued through Interpol. The charges: electronic and computer fraud.

Yevgeniy Nikulin, 29, was arrested by Czech police while eating in a hotel restaurant in Prague’s Old Town on October 5. He is under indictment in northern California on charges of computer intrusion, identity theft and other crimes for penetrating LinkedIn, Dropbox and Formspring.

Olga Komova, a 26-year-old Uzbek, and Dmitry Ukrainsky, a Russian, were arrested in July 26 at beach resorts in Thailand and accused of stealing more than $28 million as part of a mega cyber bank fraud ring. Komova is in U.S. custody and faces federal charges of wire fraud and money laundering. Komova worked in guest relations at a Thai resort.

Maxim Senakh, a 41-year-old Russian, was visiting his sister in Finland three months ago when he was arrested by Finnish authorities, again in cooperation with the FBI. He was quickly extradited to the U.S. and pleaded guilty in a Minneapolis courtroom last week to violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and wire fraud. Senakh and his associates allegedly installed malware on tens of thousands of computer servers worldwide to generate fraudulent payments for themselves.

The McClatchy News report adds, U.S. sweeping up Russian hackers in a broad global dragnet:

Many [of these Russian hackers] have now turned up in U.S. courts. The long arm of U.S. law enforcement is spanning the globe like never before to bring criminal hackers to justice.

And it may not be just about crime. The Justice Department cites fuzzy and overlapping boundaries between criminal hackers and Russian intelligence agencies, the same ones the U.S. accuses of coordinating the hacking and subsequent disclosure of emails from the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign.

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The U.S. campaign leaves Russian hackers with a dilemma: If they leave the safe confines of Russia, which has no extradition treaty with the United States, or Russia’s most ardent allies, they may get picked up and sent to the U.S.

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Still, some Russian and Eastern European hackers do enjoy holidays abroad – and live to regret it. Just this week, Maxim Senakh, a 41-year-old Russian, pleaded guilty in a Minneapolis courtroom to operating a massive robotic network that generated tens of millions of spam emails a day in a zombie criminal enterprise that purportedly brought in millions in profits.

Senakh didn’t come voluntarily. He’d been visiting a sister in Finland before that country put him on a U.S.-bound plane in January, answering a U.S. extradition request.

“He fought it, the Russian government fought it, and the Russian government put political pressure on its neighbor, Finland,” federal prosecutor Kevin S. Ueland said at a Feb. 19 hearing.

Another Russian, Mark Vartanyan, 29, pleaded guilty March 20 to computer fraud in an Atlanta courtroom after reaching a deal with prosecutors to offer far-reaching cooperation that would limit a prison term to five years or less.

Norway extradited Vartanyan to the U.S. in December.

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Stanislav Lisov, a computer programmer from Taganrog, a town on Russia’s Black Sea coast, had arrived at Barcelona’s international airport with his wife on Jan. 13 when Spanish Civil Guard police arrested him on an FBI warrant issued through Interpol. The charges: electronic and computer fraud.

“We were detained at the airport in Barcelona, when we came to return a rented car before flying out to Lyon, to continue our trip and visit friends. When we were getting out of the car, two police officers approached, showed us the badge, and said they were detaining my husband,” Darya Lisova told the Russian state-operated RT network.

Spain has not yet extradited Lisov, who is blamed for being the architect of a sophisticated Trojan, NeverQuest, used in stealing log-in credentials for bank accounts.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show flagged the reporting above in a segment on Monday night’s show. Spammer’s Arrest Eyed For Donald Trump-Russia Ties (video). As Rachel Maddow is fond of saying, “watch this space.”

If the FBI is sweeping up Russian hackers and extraditing them to the U.S. to stand trial for cyber crimes, the FBI is developing information and leads from these criminals as part of plea deals that have not yet been made public. The FBI may know much more about the state-sponsored Russian hacking of the U.S. election last year than it has publicly disclosed.

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