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Estonian Botnet Operator Pleads Guilty in U.S. Court

An Estonian national has pleaded guilty in a United States court to two counts of computer fraud and abuse over his role in creating and operating a proxy botnet.

The man, Pavel Tsurkan, 33, compromised more than 1,000 computers and routers worldwide, including those of at least 60 victims in Alaska. He then used these devices to create an Internet of Things (IoT) botnet called “Russian2015,” which he operated using the domain Russian2015.ru.

According to court documents, Tsurkan modified the settings of the compromised routers to use them as proxies and transmit third-party internet traffic through them.

The defendant sold access to the botnet to global cybercriminals who leveraged it for spam campaigns and other criminal activities.

The Justice Department said Tsurkan caused significant data overages to victims in Alaska by abusing their routers even when no computers were connected to their home networks. Victims ended up getting charged hundreds or thousands of dollars for the traffic generated by the botnet.

Scheduled for sentencing on November 10, 2021, Tsurkan faces up to 10 years in prison.

“Today’s cybercriminals rely on increasingly sophisticated techniques to hijack computers and personal electronic devices for their criminal activities. Botnets like the ‘Russian2015’ are a dangerous threat to all Americans and today’s guilty plea demonstrates we can and will hold accountable foreign cybercriminals and their enablers,” said Bryan Wilson, Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Alaska.

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