Master Cybercriminal Extradited For “Scareware” Hacking Scheme

According to the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, a Latvian man made his initial appearance earlier this month in Minneapolis following extradition from Poland for his involvement in an alleged “scareware” hacking scheme that targeted the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s website and caused millions of dollars in losses to Internet users.

Peteris Sahurovs a/k/a “Piotrek” a/k/a “Sagade,” was indicted in 2011 in the District of Minnesota on charges of wire fraud, computer fraud and conspiracy. He was arrested on the indictment in Latvia in June of 2011 and subsequently released by a Latvian court and later fled.

In November of 2016, Sahurovs was located in Poland and apprehended by Polish law enforcement, after which the U.S. began extradition proceedings.

According to reports, Sahurovs was at one time the FBI’s fifth most wanted cybercriminal and a reward of up to $50,000 had been offered for information leading to his arrest and conviction.

According to the indictment, Sahurovs and members of the conspiracy relied on fraudulent online advertising to spread their malware. The defendants allegedly created a phony advertising agency and claimed that they represented an American hotel chain that wanted to purchase online advertising space on the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s news website, startribune.com. After their advertisement began running on the website, the defendants allegedly changed the computer code in the ad so that the computers of visitors to the startribune.com were infected with malware.

The indictment alleges that the malware caused users’ computers to “freeze up” and then generate a series of pop-up warnings in an attempt to trick users into purchasing purported “antivirus” software to fix the problems created by the malware.

The “antivirus” software, if purchased, “unfroze” victim computers and stopped the pop-ups and security notifications, but the malware remained hidden on their computers. Users who failed to purchase the “antivirus” software found that all information, data and files stored on the computer became inaccessible.

The scheme purportedly generated more than $2 million in proceeds.

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