An Estonian national thought to be the brains behind a massive cyber fraud operation shut down by law enforcement authorities in 2011 pleaded guilty to wire fraud and hacking charges.
Vladimir Tsastsin, 35, pleaded guilty to taking part in an Estonia-based cybercrime scheme in which 4 million computers in over 100 countries ended up infected with malware. The individuals involved in the scheme made $14 million over a period of several years through clickjacking and ad fraud, officials said.
Tsastsin pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for the wire fraud count and up to five years for the hacking count, the Department of Justice said.
Tsastsin and his co-conspirators — Timur Gerassimenko, Dmitri Jegorov, Valeri Aleksejev, Konstantin Poltev, Andrey Taame, and Anton Ivanov — installed a Trojan known as DNSChanger on millions of computers worldwide between 2007 and October 2011, when the FBI and international law enforcement officials shut them down as part of an operation dubbed “Ghost Click.”
The DNSChanger malware allowed the cybercriminals to hijack victims’ DNS settings and route their computers to certain websites. The group made money through affiliate advertising schemes by hijacking users’ clicks and by replacing legitimate ads with their own.
Once the police arrested the suspecgts, authorities had to keep their rogue DNS servers alive in order to prevent users whose computers ended up infected with DNS changer malware from losing Internet access.
Gerassimenko, Jegorov, Poltev, Ivanov and Aleksejev also admitted taking part in the conspiracy. Aleksejev received four years in prison and Ivanov got time served. The other three defendants will undergo sentencing July 23. Tamme, who is a Russian national, is still at large.