Security Experts:

Estonian Man Pleads Guilty to Role in DNSChanger Botnet Scheme

An Estonian national believed to be the mastermind behind a massive cyber fraud operation shut down by law enforcement authorities in 2011 has pleaded guilty to wire fraud and hacking charges.

Vladimir Tsastsin, 35, has admitted taking part in an Estonia-based cybercrime scheme in which 4 million computers in over 100 countries were infected with malware. The individuals involved in the scheme are said to have made $14 million over a period of several years through clickjacking and ad fraud.

Tsastsin has pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for the wire fraud count and up to five years for the hacking count, the Department of Justice said on Wednesday.

Tsastsin and his co-conspirators -- Timur Gerassimenko, Dmitri Jegorov, Valeri Aleksejev, Konstantin Poltev, Andrey Taame, and Anton Ivanov -- installed a Trojan known as DNSChanger on millions of computers worldwide between 2007 and October 2011, when they were shut down by the FBI and international authorities as part of an operation dubbed “Ghost Click.”

The DNSChanger malware allowed the cybercriminals to hijack victims’ DNS settings and route their computers to certain websites. The group made a lot of money through affiliate advertising schemes by hijacking users’ clicks and by replacing legitimate ads with their own.

Once the cybercrooks were arrested, authorities had to keep their rogue DNS servers alive in order to prevent users whose computers had been infected with DNS changer malware from losing Internet access.

Gerassimenko, Jegorov, Poltev, Ivanov and Aleksejev have also admitted taking part in the conspiracy. Aleksejev was sentenced to four years in prison and Ivanov was sentenced to time served. The other three defendants will be sentenced on July 23. Tamme, who is a Russian national, is still at large.

view counter
Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) 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.