Russian, Kazakh hackers conned firms out of millions, say US prosecutors

Caravanserai and AFP

WASHINGTON, DC -- Eight people, including six Russian and two Kazakh nationals, were indicted in US court for mounting complex fake advertising schemes that caused companies to lose tens of millions of dollars.

Russian nationals Aleksandr Zhukov, Boris Timokhin, Mikhail Andreev (who is also Ukrainian), Denis Avdeev, Dmitry Novikov and Aleksandr Isaev, along with Sergey Ovsyannikov and Yevgeniy Timchenko of Kazakhstan were named in a 13-count indictment unsealed Tuesday (November 27) in federal court in New York.

They were indicted on charges that include wire fraud, computer intrusion, aggravated identity theft and money laundering.

The Kazakh Foreign Ministry is verifying Ovsyannikov and Timchenko's Kazakh citizenship, according to Tengri News.

In one scheme, dubbed "Methbot" and launched in 2014, the accused internet swindlers rented more than 1,900 computer servers situated in commercial data centres in several US cities and used them to simulate humans viewing ads on webpages they had fabricated, US prosecutors said.

They said the botnet-based ad network was thus able to falsify billions of ad views and forced businesses to pay more than $7 million for ads that had never in fact been viewed by true, human internet users.

Two of the accused also launched a separate scheme in 2015 involving a fake advertising network for another fraudulent digital ad scheme. They used a network of 1.7 million malware-infected computers to falsify billions of ad views, which cost businesses more than $29 million for ads also not seen by human internet users, court papers show.

"As alleged, these individuals built complex, fraudulent digital advertising infrastructure for the express purpose of misleading and defrauding companies who believed they were acting in good faith, and costing them millions of dollars," Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney said in a statement.

"This kind of exploitation undermines confidence in the system, on the part of both companies and their customers."

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