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Alleged Kelihos Botnet Mastermind Extradited to U.S.

A 37-year-old Russian national accused of being the mastermind behind the notorious Kelihos botnet has been extradited from Spain to the United States.

The U.S. Justice Department announced that Peter Yuryevich Levashov, also known as Petr Levashov, Pyotr Levashov, Peter Severa, Petr Severa and Sergey Astakhov, of St. Petersburg, Russia, was arraigned on Friday in Connecticut. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against him.

Levashov was arrested in April 2017 by Spanish authorities based on a U.S. warrant and has been in custody ever since. The suspect had been on holiday at the time of his arrest, which coincided with a takedown operation targeting the Kelihos botnet. He was indicted roughly two weeks later by a federal grand jury in Connecticut.

Russia had attempted to block his extradition to the United States. Levashov claimed that he had previously worked for President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party, and feared that he would be killed if extradited to the U.S. Initial media reports said his arrest may be linked to the U.S. election hacks, but officials denied there was any connection.

The suspect has been charged on eight counts, including causing intentional damage to a protected computer, conspiracy, accessing protected computers in furtherance of fraud, wire fraud, threatening to damage a protected computer, fraud in connection with email, and aggravated identity theft. He faces more than 50 years in prison for these charges.

According to U.S. authorities, Levashov controlled and operated the Kelihos botnet, using it to send spam, harvest personal information, and deliver other malware. At the time of his arrest, investigators said the botnet at times had ensnared as many as 100,000 computers, including many in the United States.

While some security firms track Kelihos as Waldac, many have classified it as a successor of Waledac, a botnet disrupted by authorities in 2010.

Another Russian national who will be extradited to the United States is Alexander Vinnik, owner of the cryptocurrency exchange BTC-e. Greece’s Supreme Court recently approved the extradition of Vinnik, who is said to have laundered $4 billion using bitcoins.

Yevgeni Nikulin, who U.S. authorities say hacked into the systems of LinkedIn, Formspring and Dropbox, will also soon be extradited after a high court in the Czech Republic upheld an earlier ruling authorizing his extradition.

Related: Extradition of Russian to U.S. on Bitcoin Charges 'Unjust', Says Moscow

Related: Lithuania to Extradite $100 Million Email Fraud Suspect to U.S.

Related: Russian Hacker Living in U.S. Sentenced to Prison

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Eduard Kovacs is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.