Two Russians arrested over their suspected involvement in the largest online fraud in US history were tracked down by analysing photos they posted to social media sites and tracking the location of one suspect's mobile phone, Reuters reports.
Four Russians and a Ukrainian national were named as suspects in a credit card hacking scam investigation involving 160 million cards and victimising organisation including NASDAQ, 7-Eleven, Carrefour, JCP, Hannaford, Heartland, Euronet and Global Payment in an indictment unsealed on Thursday. The gang allegedly acted as wholesale suppliers of stolen credit card data to carding forums resulting in losses of more than $300m to just three of the organisations they targeted.
Two of the suspects - alleged moneyman Dmitriy Smilianets, 29 and alleged hacker Vladimir Drinkman, 32, both from Moscow - were arrested in the Netherlands in June 2012. Smilianets has already been deported to the US while Drinkman continues to fight against expulsion. Three other suspects remain at large.
Alexandr Kalinin, 26, of St. Petersburg, allegedly worked with Drinkman in breaking into the systems of targeted organisations, normally employing SQL injection attacks. The gang subsequently planted trojans to harvest and extract credit card numbers and personal information from compromised systems.
Investigators reckon the duo worked with notorious double-dealing cybercrime kingpin Albert Gonzalez in the notorious 2009 hack of Heartland Payment Systems.
The indictment alleged that Roman Kotov, 32, also from Moscow, specialised in mining the networks allegedly compromised by Drinkman and Kalinin to steal valuable data. Smilianets allegedly acted as a high-tech fence by selling stolen credit details through underground forums. The fifth suspect, Mikhail Rytikov, 26, of Odessa, Ukraine, provided bulletproof hosting services to the gang, the indictment claims.
Smilianets kept a relatively high profile in Russia and an active presence on social networking sites, which was how they tracked him down.
Reuters reports Smilianets founded an electronic gaming team called Moscow 5 that travelled the world for competitions. In this role, Smilianets used a variety of online nicknames including Dima Brave and Dima Bold.
US Secret Service agents received information that Smilianets was travelling to Europe last year along with Drinkman. Investigators quickly realised that Drinkman was one of several people suspected of collaborating with Gonzalez.
"Here's the world's biggest hacker," a person familiar with the case told Reuters. "We got lucky."
The agents still didn't know where the two suspects were staying but Drinkman assisted them by posting pictures of his trip, as well as leaving his phone on, transmitting location information and narrowing down the potential locations where he might have been staying. Overnight inquiries were made at the hotels and the location of the suspects was narrowed down. The pair were eventually arrested as they boarded a... tour bus.
Reuters adds that US authorities have acted unusually by publicly naming suspects at large in an ongoing investigation. This may be a sign of frustration at a lack of co-operation from their Russian counterparts. ®