Putin lends support to hacker probe

In another indication of the increasingly close ties being developed between Russia and the US the Russian financial watchdog has announced an investigation into links between its banks and hacker attacks in the US.

Dubbed the world's 'hottest hacker' Kristina Svechinskaya, one of the mules caught in the Zeus botnet gang

Coming hot on the heels of the announcement that the Russian Army will make helicopters available to the NATO forces in Afghanistan the news that the Russian Financial Monitoring Service is to look into possible allegations of money laundering and hacking is the first sign of a shift in attitude from the Russian authorities on cybercrime.

According to Novosti, the Russian online news service, the announcement came at a meeting between, Yury Chikhankin head of the FMS and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

A meeting that is significant in Russian terms, because of the message sent out to hackers that any clampdown will come from the top.

That Putin, a politician with a St Petersburg power base, was at the meeting was doubly significant because many of the techno-crime groups, like the Russian Business Network, have spun out of universities in the St Petersburg region and are believed to have enjoyed protection from politicians in the area’s elite.

According to Mark Galeotti, the Clinical Professor and Academic Chair at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs and a noted expert on Russian organised crime, Putin’s position will be crucial.

“St Petersburg is still very much a Putin stronghold, and given the nature of the Russian political system, RBN and similar operations need to have a ‘roof’ – protection – from the local political machine to operate and likewise Putin is the ‘roof’ for the St Petersburg leadership, so at the very least he has probably chosen to turn a blind eye.

“Of course, given the often close relationship between the security agencies and hackers, and the way that the FSB (Federal Security Service) – Putin’s old agency and his main source of support absorbed most of FAPSI, Russia’s NSA/GCHQ counterpart – then the links between elements of Putin’s empire and various cybercriminals are multiple.”

The response from Moscow follows several high profile incidents that have attracted attention.

In mid-October, a U.S. court found two Russians, 25-year-old Dmitry Krivosheyev and 24-year-old Maxim Illarionov, guilty of staging a cyber attack on banks and stealing their money.

Krivosheyev and Illarionov were two members of the group behind a scam to penetrate companies’ computer networks, steal their bank details and siphon off cash. Their partners in crime have yet to be identified.

In total, the gang fraudulently transferred about $1.3 million from their victims’ bank accounts.

The Russian hackers may face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 said Novosti.

In early October, U.S. authorities indicted over 60 people for wire fraud carried out using a version of the Zeus Trojan virus. The gang managed to seize at least $3 million in the United States and $9.5 million in Britain.

Security services believe the virus originated in Russia. The hackers mounted a wide-ranging attack, infecting computers with the Zeus Trojan in outwardly inconspicuous e-mail attachments and fake LinkedIn invitations. Once in, the virus would steal the user’s bank details and transmit it to the hackers.

For more on St Petersburg’s hacking past follow the link below.