Kelihos Botnet Author Pleads Guilty in U.S. Court

Haythem Elmir

Peter Yuryevich Levashov, a 38-year-old Russian national accused of operating the notorious Kelihos botnet, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to computer crime, fraud, conspiracy and identity theft charges.

Levashov, aka “Petr Levashov,” “Peter Severa,” “Petr Severa” and “Sergey Astakhov,” is said to have operated several botnets between the late 1990s and April 2017, when he was arrested.

The Storm and Waledac botnets, which share source code with Kelihos, have also been attributed to Levashov. Levashov’s malware had infected hundreds of thousands of computers, allowing him and other cybercriminals who rented the botnets to send spam and steal valuable information from compromised devices. Authorities said the man also took part in operating various cybercrime forums.

The Kelihos, Storm and Waledac botnets reportedly generated hundreds of millions of dollars for cybercriminals. Data leaked in 2010 after hackers broke into the systems of a pharmacy spam program showed that Levashov had made nearly $600,000 from these types of activities over a 3-year period.

Spamhaus’ entry on Levashov in its Register of Known Spam Operations (ROKSO) describes the Russian as “one of the longest operating criminal spam-lords on the internet.”

Levashov was indicted in the United States on April 20, just days after his arrest in Spain and action taken by authorities to dismantle the Kelihos botnet. He was extradited to the United States in February.

Levashov on Wednesday pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Hartford, Connecticut, to one count of causing intentional damage to a protected computer, one count of conspiracy, one count of aggravated identity theft, and one count of wire fraud.

His sentencing has been scheduled for September 6, 2019, and he will remain in custody until then. It’s unclear why the judge scheduled sentencing for one year from now, but it could indicate that Levashov is working with law enforcement agencies on dismantling other cybercrime operations.

“For years, Mr. Levashov lived quite comfortably while his criminal behavior disrupted the lives of thousands of computer users,” said U.S. Attorney John H. Durham of the District of Connecticut. “Thanks to the collaborative work of the FBI and our partners in law enforcement, private industry and academia, a prolific cybercriminal has been neutralized, and has now admitted his guilt in a U.S. courtroom.”


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