- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 6, 2016

A federal judge in Manhattan has handed down a suspended prison sentence to a Latvian computer programmer who faced nearly 70 years behind bars at one point for his role in creating the Gozi virus, a powerful computer worm that infected more than one million machines around the globe including ones used by NASA.

Deniss Calovskis, 30, pleaded guilty in September to conspiring to commit computer intrusions with what the Justice Department had dubbed “one of the most financially destructive” viruses in history. That agreement had called for Calovskis to spend between 18 months and two years in prison for helping to create and spread the computer worm, but U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood said during a sentencing hearing on Tuesday this week that “the goal of punishment has been served already”.

The computer programmer had already served more than 20 months in prison including the 10 months he spent in a Latvian jail cell after being arrested in November 2012 and his subsequent stay in American facilities after he was extradited to the U.S. last February to face a slew of charges including conspiracy to commit bank fraud, access device fraud and aggravated identity, among other counts.

Calovskis‘ “unusual individual characteristics will not … cause others to follow in his footsteps by my not giving him a longer sentence,” Judge Wood said.

Despite facing 67-years in prison at one point for those charges, his attorney, David Bertan, told reporters that Calovskis could be back in Latvia in a matter of weeks.

Prosecutors said the Gozi virus had infected between 17,000 and 40,000 U.S. computers between 2005 and 2012, including 190 at NASA and hundreds of thousands of other machines internationally.

“Rather than using his code-writing capability productively, he instead sold it to help others carry out a massive worldwide heist of personal banking information,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Tehrani said of Calovskis.

Defense lawyers said his role was limited, however, and claimed that he didn’t profit from any of the intrusions and had been paid only $1,000 for helping refine the code used by other hackers to carry out the crime.

“He did not create or write the Gozi virus, he did not participate in collecting data from infected computers, and he did not personally use that data to access financial institutions,” his counsel alleged in court.

“I knew what I was doing was against the law,” Calovskis admitted in court. “I must say it was the biggest mistake.”

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