FBI investigators have named a 23-year-old Russian as a prime suspect behind the operation of the infamous 500,000 Mega-D botnet, blamed for an estimated one in three spam emails prior to a take-down operation early last year.
Oleg Nikolaenko, a 23-year-old Moscow resident, was accused of violating US anti-spam and fraud laws in a sworn testimony by an FBI agent investigation the case, the Smoking Gun reports.
Webmail records from two Gmail accounts and financial transactions (via the ePassporte service) link Nikolaenko to the operation of the botnet, according to court paper submitted in a grand jury investigation.
The Mega-D zombie network was infamous as a prolific source of counterfeit prescription, herbal remedy and fake Rolex spam. A January 2009 takedown operation mounted by security firm FireEye hit Mega-D very hard, drastically affecting spam output, which has returned but never to the same noxious levels.
Nikolaenko is the first suspect to be named in the Mega-D botnet investigation case and not much is known about him aside from a short entry by Nikolaenko in Spamhaus's ROKSO database of the world's most prolific spammers, which can be found here.
The Russian constitution specifically prohibits extradition of its citizens. Nikolaenko previously visited the US voluntarily twice last year but he's unlikely to return once he gets wind that the feds are on his case.
Up until recently Russia was considered something of a safe haven for cybercrooks, who were left alone by the authorities providing only non-Russians were targeted and (it's rumoured) bribes to local politicians and corrupt police were paid. Some of these blackhats may have provided a conveniently deniable source for cyberattack against Georgia that accompanied armed hostilities between the two countries back in 2008.
More recently attitudes have changed as those at the top of Russia political leadership have begun to see cybercrooks as an obstacle to making the country less economically reliant on its natural energy reserves by expanding its IT sector. However, local attitudes remain inconsistent and it is difficult to predict whether or not Nikolaenko will be questioned over any offence – much less charged.
Security blogger and ex Washington Post reporter Brian Krebs noted earlier this week that the suspected operator of a large underground carding forum has expanded his business over the last four years, after been publicly outed as a significant cybercrime operator by the New York Times back in 2006. Sergey Kozerev, originally from St Petersburg, still runs a "bustling marketplace for purloined financial data", Krebs reports. ®