- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 5, 2019

A pair of Russian hackers carried out one of the most costly computer hacking and bank fraud schemes of the past decade, targeting American citizens and businesses in at least 11 states, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

The two men, who have not been arrested, are responsible for nearly $70 million in losses suffered by their targets in a globe-spanning scheme in which they attempted to steal more than $220 million, according to two unsealed indictments.

Robert Jones of the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency, which partnered with U.S. authorities on the case, estimated there were thousands of victims in 45 countries.

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski said the pair, Maksim Yakubets, 32 of Moscow; and Igor Turashev, 38, of Yoshkar-Ola, Russia; engaged in cybercrime “on an unimaginable scale,” and called their criminal schemes “so audacious and sophisticated they would be difficult to imagine if they were not real.”

The State Department has offered a bounty of $5 million for information leading to the arrest and capture of Mr. Yakubets, the alleged mastermind. It is the largest reward ever offered in a cybercrime case.

In the U.S., the men are accused of using malware to hack into businesses, a bank and a school district.

Victims included the Sharon City School District in Western Pennsylvania, Penneco Oil, 84 Lumber, a luggage business in New Mexico and a community of Franciscan sisters in Chicago.

“Because many of the victims … are small and midsized businesses, their accounts do not have the same legal protections afforded to consumer accounts, so some of the loses involved are particularly devastating,” Mr. Benczkowski said.

The 10-count indictment lodged against the pair includes charges of bank fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy and damage to a computer. Criminal charges were filed in Pittsburgh and Lincoln, Nebraska.

“Together these two criminals have victimized our district and the world at large,” said Scott W. Brady, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Prosecutors say Mr. Yakubets has ties to Russia’s Federal Security Service.

FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said the two are thought to be in Russia, which could mean neither will ever see a U.S. courtroom — Russia does not have an extradition treaty with the United States.

Mr. Bowdich told reporters that Russia did respond to a request for help under a mutual legal assistance treaty. He said Russia was “helpful to a point,” but did not provide any more details.

The pair are accused of sending victims and businesses employees a phishing email, according to the indictment. Once opened, the email installs the Bugat malware package on a computer system targeting login credentials and bank accounts.

Penneco Oil had millions drained from its bank account according to the indictment.

Separately, the U.S. Treasury Department took sanctions against the group of hackers, lead by Mr. Yakubets, known as Evil Corp.

The action blocks all individuals from engaging in transactions with U.S. citizens or businesses and storing or transferring their money through U.S. Banks.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement the sanctions will “disrupt the massive phishing campaign” orchestrated by Mr. Yakubets.

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