'Kelihos Botmaster' and alleged Spam-King indicted by US courts

News by Max Metzger

The alleged master of the spam-distributing Kelihos botnet has been indicted by a US court on charges that range from fraud to identity theft.

A Russian national has been indicted by a US federal grand jury on charges related to the operation of the Kelihos botnet.

Peter Yuryevich Levashov was charged with eight counts including wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and causing intentional damage to a protected computer.

Levashov was arrested in Barcelona on 7 April at the request of the US Department of Justice. He remains in custody in Spain while Spanish authorities consider a request for extradition from the US. US authorities have 40 days in which to present evidence to support their request.

Early reports alleged that Levashov was arrested in connection with the ‘hacking' of the 2016 US election, but the grand jury's decision makes it clear exactly what he was brought in for.  

Levashov is believed to have run the sprawling spam botnet called Kelihos, using the pseudonym Peter Severa among others. Under his command, Kelihos could be rented out to distribute fraudulent financial information, recruitment spam, emails advertising fake pharmaceuticals or, for the right price, ransomware.

Kelihos boasted a botnet of around 45,000 computers in 2010, but at its height, could apparently call on 100,000 to do its bidding.

It is believed that Levashov started working with Kelihos around 2010, adopting the botnet after what looks like a great deal of experience. The Russian national currently holds sixth place on Spamhaus' World's Ten Worst Spammers.

Before Kelihos, Levashov was accused in 2009 of operating the Storm botnet, another mass distributor of unsolicited spam.

His indictment comes as part of a larger move by US authorities to shut down Kelihos. A civil complaint was filed in an Alaska court at the beginning of the month and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation started blocking its associated domains on 8 April.

A couple of days later, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) along with the FBI and US attorney's office announced they had begun their assault.

Acting assistant attorney general Kenneth A. Blanco of the DoJ's criminal division said in a statement: “The ability of botnets like Kelihos to be weaponised quickly for vast and varied types of harms is a dangerous and deep threat to all Americans, driving at the core of how we communicate, network, earn a living, and live our everyday lives.”

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