U.S. prosecutors charge 3 Europeans over Gozi virus

Windsor Genova – Fourth Estate Cooperative Contributor

New York, NY, United States (4E) – Federal prosecutors have charged three Europeans who created and distributed a virus that hijacked bank accounts of individuals and businesses and stole millions of dollars from victims for several years since 2007.

Charges of bank fraud conspiracy, access device fraud and computer intrusion were filed against Latvian Deniss Calovskis, 27; Russian Nikita Kuzmin, 25; and Romanian Mihai Ionut Paunescu, 28, before the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Wednesday in a press conference.

Kuzmin was arrested in California in November 2010 and pleaded guilty in 2011. He cooperated with U.S. investigators in tracking down Paunescu and Calovskis, who were arrested in their countries in November and December, respectively. The Latvian and Romanian accused hackers are to be extradited to the U.S. for trial.

According to court papers, Kuzmin hired a computer programmer to develop the Gozi virus in 2005. The virus mimicked bank websites to deceive customers into giving their PIN numbers and other sensitive information. The stolen data went to servers controlled by Kuzmin.

Kuzmin started renting out the virus in 2006. From 2009 to 2010, he sold the virus’ code to co-conspirators. They operated web hosting sites in the U.S., Romania and other countries to help buyers of the malware avoid detection by police authorities.

The Gozi virus began spreading in 2008 and eventually infected 40,000 U.S. computers, including 160 from the space agency NASA. Federal agents began investigating Kuzmin in 2010.

If convicted, Kuzmin faces up to 95 years in prison. Conspirators Calovskis and Paunescu face maximum sentences of 67 and 60 years, respectively.

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