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Romanian Operator of Bulletproof Hosting Service Extradited to the US

A Romanian national accused of operating a bulletproof hosting service used by the Gozi banking trojan was extradited from Colombia and has made an appearance in court in the United States.

The man, Mihai Ionut Paunescu, 37, a dual Romanian and Latvian national, was arrested in Colombia last year. Previously, he was arrested in Romania in 2012, but was released on bail.

Also known under the online moniker of 'Virus,' Paunescu is accused of operating a bulletproof hosting service used by cybercriminals in malicious operations without fear of detection or disruption by law enforcement.

The service that Paunescu operated was allegedly used to distribute trojans such as Gozi, Zeus, and SpyEye. Paunescu rented legitimate servers and IP addresses from various Internet service providers, and then allowed cybercriminals to use them, for a fee.

"Bulletproof hosts provided cyber criminals using the Gozi Virus with the critical online infrastructure they needed, such as Internet Protocol (IP) addresses and computer servers, in a manner designed to enable them to preserve their anonymity," the US Department of Justice said in a statement announcing the extradition.

Gozi, which infected over one million systems worldwide, including 40,000 computers in the US, some of which belonged to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), is estimated to have caused losses of tens of millions of dollars to individuals, businesses, and government entities.

Featuring anti-detection capabilities, Gozi was designed to capture personal bank account information, including login credentials, and to send them to its operators, who used them to transfer funds out of the victim’s bank accounts.

Paunescu faces up to 10 years in prison for conspiracy to commit computer intrusion, up to 30 years in prison for conspiracy to commit bank fraud, and up to 20 years for conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

In 2016, a US court sentenced Gozi creator Nikita Kuzmin to the 37 months he had already spent in custody, while another US court sentenced SpyEye creator Aleksandr Panin to nine years in prison, and Algerian national Hamza Bendelladj – who helped advertise and deliver SpyEye – to 15 years in prison.

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