Deniss Calovskis, extradited from Latvia to the United States in February, has pleaded guilty in a US federal court for his part in the creation of the Gozi banking malware which infected more than a million computers worldwide.
Calovskis, who resided in Riga, Latvia, will be sentenced in December, and the good news for him is that his plea bargain means that he will avoid the 67 year jail sentence that the US government could have hit him with.
It was the fact that a jail term of over 60 years was hanging over Calovskis’s head that resulted in a drawn-out dispute between the United States and Latvia, as the former attempted to have the 30-year-old, who went by the online handle of “Miami”, extradited.
Under the terms of the plea bargain, the maximum prison sentence Calovskis might see is 10 years, and a fine as potentially high as $250,000 – but I suspect he will see much shorter prison term than that as he has agreed not to appeal any prison sentence of less than two years.
Gozi was stealthily infecting and infiltrating computers for over five years. “Well over a million computers around the world” were infected by Gozi according to US prosecutors, including more than 160 PCs at NASA.
Computers in Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Turkey and the United Kingdom were also affected.
One way your computer could become infected by the Gozi malware was by opening a PDF file sent to you in an unsolicited email. Unfortunately for you, the PDF file was boobytrapped, and secretly installed Gozi onto your Windows PC.
One in place, the malware could steal data from your computer – including your bank account login details – and send it to online criminals.
Once banking information was stolen it would be shared with so-called money mules who would help the criminals launder stolen funds.
New York US Attorney Preet Bharara described the malware as “one of the most financially destructive computer viruses in history.”
Calovskis is not thought to be the sole creator of the Gozi virus, but was hired to develop a web-injecting component which altered how banking websites appeared on the computers of infected users, tricking them into divulging additional personal information, such as their mother’s maiden name, social security numbers and ATM card details.
“I knew what I was doing was against the law,” Calovskis told the judge.
Calovskis is said to have not just written web injects for Gozi, but also for other bank-related malware such as Zeus.
It’s always encouraging to hear of more international co-operation helping to bring hackers to justice. But cases like this show that investigations can take many years, slowed down by legal processes that criminal gangs don’t have to worry about.
The good news is that malicious hackers are finding it harder than ever before to escape justice, even if it takes years before they wake up to their first prison breakfast.