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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Russian hacker behind massive botnet pleads guilty

Peter Levashov is said to be responsible for the Kelihos botnet, which others used to steal identities, unleash torrents of spam and extort ransoms from computer owners

Peter Levashov will be sentenced in September next year. Getty
Peter Levashov will be sentenced in September next year. Getty

A Russian hacker who gained control of as many as 100,000 computers globally via botnets he created has pleaded guilty to computer crimes and identity theft.

Peter Levashov, 37, was extradited in February to the United States from Spain, where he was arrested more than a year ago on a US warrant. He pleaded guilty on Wednesday in a Connecticut court.

He was said to be behind a series of international botnet and spamming operations dating back to the 1990s, most notoriously the Kelihos botnet, which he leased to others to steal identities, unleash torrents of spam and extort ransoms from computer owners.

On April 7 last year, US authorities took down Kelihos, just as Spanish authorities picked up Levashov entering the country at Barcelona airport.

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The Spamhaus Project, which documents spam, botnets, malware and other abuse, at the time called Levashov "one of the longest operating criminal spam-lords on the internet".

Levashov agreed to plead guilty to one count of causing intentional damage to a protected computer, one count of conspiracy, one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.

"For more than two decades, Peter Levashov operated botnets that enabled him to harvest personal information from infected computers, disseminate spam and distribute malware used to facilitate multiple scams," said Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski.

Levashov faces years in prison on the charges and is scheduled for sentencing on September 6 next year. The Justice Department did not explain the long gap between his guilty plea and sentencing.