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U.S. Charges Ukrainian for Malvertising

A Ukrainian national was indicted in the United States for his role in a years-long, international scheme to infect computers with malware via online advertisements, or malvertising. 

A Ukrainian national was indicted in the United States for his role in a years-long, international scheme to infect computers with malware via online advertisements, or malvertising. 

The man, Oleksii Petrovich Ivanov, 31, was charged in December 2018, but the indictment was unsealed only last week, upon his arrival in the United States, after being arrested in the Netherlands on Oct. 19, 2018. 

The indictment and other court filings reveal that, between October 2013 and May 2018, Ivanov conspired to defraud millions of users worldwide through malicious online advertising campaigns. 

Seemingly legitimate, these campaigns attempted to direct the victims’ browsers to malware, unwanted advertisements, and other computers that could install malware. 

Ivanov and others “caused unsuspecting Internet users to view or access their malicious advertisements on more than one hundred million occasions. By launching these malicious advertisement campaigns, Ivanov and his co-conspirators attempted to cause millions of dollars of losses to victim Internet users,” the indictment (PDF) reads. 

As part of the scheme, Ivanov and co-conspirators allegedly used fake online personas and fake companies to pose as legitimate advertisers, claiming to be distributing ads for real products and services. They even created false banners and websites showing purported advertisements. 

However, they used the purchased online ads to push malware to the computers of victims who viewed or clicked on those advertisements.

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In June and July 2014 Ivanov allegedly submitted malicious ads to a U.S.-based advertising company for distribution. Two campaigns he submitted on July 15, 2014 were viewed or accessed approximately 17,328,129 times in a matter of days, the indictment claims. 

When the Internet advertising company told Ivanov that the advertisements were being flagged as malware threats, he denied any wrongdoing and persuaded the company to continue running the ads for months. 

Ivanov and his co-conspirators denied that their ads were malicious when online advertisers and advertising server platforms flagged them, and switched to new online advertising companies using new fake identities to buy more advertisements when they were banned. 

According to the indictment, Ivanov also used false identities to register domains to host malicious ads, and launch purported advertising campaigns. He is alleged to have infected and helped in infecting computers with malicious programs, including botnet malware. 

“Ivanov and others also allegedly attempted to enrich themselves by offering to sell access to networks of infected devices or ‘botnets’,” the United States Department of Justice reveals. 

Related: Sophisticated ‘3ve’ Ad Fraud Scheme Dismantled, Operators Indicted

Related: Indictment: Hackers Charged With Making Threats to Schools

Written By

Ionut Arghire is an international correspondent for SecurityWeek.

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