Online Extortionists Get Eight Years

A Russian news agency is reporting that three hackers accused of carrying out a devastating spree of cybercrime in 2003 and 2004 have been sentenced to eight years in prison each.

The men also were fined $3,700, according to RIA Novosti, the Russian News Agency. The maximum possible sentence for each man was 15 years.

The three men were responsible for a string of extortion attempts against online wagering sites, many of them located in the United Kingdom where a large part of the investigation took place, as the hackers collected more than $4 million in extortion payments from U.K. sites alone, according to RIAN.

In six months, the hackers made 54 distinct extortion attacks in 30 countries. The hackers were skilled at attacking when it would hurt the wagering sites the most. For example, according to the Russian news service story, one U.K. site, Canbet, lost $200,000 per day during the weekend of the Breeder’s Cup horse races, a notably busy wagering weekend.

One of the three sentenced was Ivan Maksakov of Balokovo, who was a key figure in a CSO feature story about an online extortion against a Costa Rican wagering site, BetCris.com, which also came at an inopportune time, right before the Thanksgiving weekend wagering period.

In that case, BetCris officials, with the help of a young, entrepreneurial computer programmer named Barrett Lyon, turned back Maksakov’s extortion attempt. Lyon then turned vigilante, located Maksakov on the Internet and chatted with him over a period of weeks.

Lyon turned over all of the chat files, along with other intelligence he gathered, to authorities investigating the extortion cases in the United Kingdom. Authorities there used Lyon’s intel in their investigation and eventual arrest of the suspects.

Out of the defense he fashioned for BetCris, Lyon formed a company, Prolexic, to offer similar defenses to other companies. He’s since left Prolexic and is starting another company, BitGravity, outside of the security world, which is focused on high-speed content delivery.

Lyon reacted to the eight-year sentences with mixed emotions. "Knowing that these guys are my age and the time that has gone by has allowed me to feel some sympathy for them," Lyon told CSOonline.com. "However, once I remember the countless days that were burnt away chasing after the attacks they launched, the viciousness, and the sheer collateral damage they caused, I have no sympathy."

Lyon, 27, went on to suggest other hackers take note of the severity of the sentence. "Anyone around the globe that may be thinking of using a botnet to attack businesses and individuals should remember that eight years in a Russian prison is a prescription for an odd strain of tuberculosis."

-Compiled by Scott Berinato

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Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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