One of the most frequent questions I get from victims of malware infections is “What do they get out of messing up my computer?”
Daily, we read news stories about hackers, spammers, hijackers, identity thieves and other cyber criminals, but we seldom hear about someone getting caught. My last two columns have been about botnets and credit card skimming, two cyber criminal activities that are on the rise and in the news.
How about the guys that are always sending me spam emails? My main Gmail account gets an average of 35 spam messages a day and I’m talking about spam, not including junk mail. All my other email accounts receive some spam every day. This adds up to staggering proportions and is estimated worldwide to represent more than 90 percent of total email volume. What a frightful waste of bandwidth and serious misuse of the Internet!
So what can be done and what is being done? There is a global effort currently underway to coordinate activities of law enforcement groups in all the major Internet using countries and last week CNN reported that a Russian man who the FBI believes is responsible for one-third of our spam email was arraigned in federal court in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Oleg Nikolaenko pleaded not guilty to charges involving federal anti-spam legislation. He is alleged to have been the mastermind behind one of the Internet’s largest botnets, “Mega-D”. Security experts who testified estimated that “Mega-D” could send 10 billion spam messages a day thus accounting for about 32 % of total spam.
What was the payoff for Nikolaenko? Court documents showed that the operation was involved in selling counterfeit goods, including pharmaceuticals and herbal remedies. Ever get a spam email advertising an erectile dysfunction drug? You get the idea. Law enforcement got a tip from a seller of fake Rolex watches that helped them crack the case. Nikolaenko was tracked across several continents, different websites and multiple email addresses. He was alleged to have received $459,098.47 in one six month period in 2007. Not bad for a 23 year old, huh?
FBI agents and the Federal Trade commission had been monitoring Nikolaenko since 2007. He was finally nabbed this November while attending an auto show in Las Vegas. He is being held without bail since he is an obvious flight risk.
Nikolaenko’s lawyer, Christopher Van Wagner is quoted as saying: “You folks in the media have dubbed him the King of Spam or maybe the prosecutor has, but right now, all he’s the king of is the cell in which he’s being held.” Maybe a little justice will be done for the users of the Internet and maybe we can read our email without being inundated with sales pitches for fake and illegal goods.