Ukrainian Hacker Pleads Guilty In Credit Card Data Theft, ‘Botnet’ Conspiracy

A Ukrainian hacker accused of trying to frame a well-known U.S. cybersecurity expert, Brian Krebs for heroin possession has pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Esther Salas in Newark, New Jersey for using more than 13,000 computers to steal log-in and credit card data, federal prosecutors said.

Sergey Vovnenko, 29, of Naples, Italy, whose aliases included “Flycracker,” “Centurion” and “Darklife,” pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit wire fraud, according to U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman in New Jersey. He was part of an international conspiracy to hack into computers belonging to individuals and companies between September 2010 and August 2012.

U.S. prosecutors said on January 20 that Vovnenko faces a mandatory minimum sentence of two years in prison and may face additional prison time, plus a fine for conspiracy, at his May 2 sentencing.

Vovnenko admitted to operating a “botnet” that used more than 13,000 computers that had been infected with malware to gain unauthorized access, reportedly as part of an international conspiracy to launch cyberattacks on both individuals and companies. The group then used malware known as “Zeus” to steal banking information from and record keystrokes of people using infected computers.

Vovnenko fought extradition after he was detained by Italian authorities in June 2014. Around the time of his extradition, cybersecurity reporter Brian Krebs, who runs the cybersecurity blog Krebs on Security, accused Vovnenko to have been behind a 2013 plot to have heroin sent to Krebs’ Virginia home, and then tell police when the drugs arrived.

However, Krebs was able to foil the plot and alert the police due to his ability to track online activities of Vovnenko.

“In short, the antics didn’t end when I foiled his plot to get me arrested for drug possession, and those antics likely contributed to his arrest and to this guilty plea,” Krebs wrote in a recent blog post. “The aggravated ID theft charge to which Vovnenko pleaded guilty carries a mandatory two-year sentence. The other charges he copped to will lengthen his sentence and include fines.”

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