MILWAUKEE, Wis (Reuters) - A 23-year-old Russian operated a huge network of infected computers that sent billions of spam e-mails marketing counterfeit goods and accounted for a third of global spam, the FBI said.
An affidavit written by an FBI cyber crimes expert released this week outlined an international scheme run by Russian native Oleg Nikolaenko that earned him millions of dollars from sellers of fake Rolex watches and “male enhancement drugs” before it was shut down.
Nikolaenko, 23, was arrested at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas in early November, where he was attending a car show, and charged with one count of violating the federal CAN-SPAM Act, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.
Nikolaenko’s lawyer, Christopher Van Wagner, said on Thursday the charges were just accusations. He said he would seek to get Nikolaenko released from jail at a hearing on Friday in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee.
“It’s a difficult thing for a government attorney to prove what’s going on in the ether,” Van Wagner said in a telephone interview. He would not comment further until he had seen the government’s evidence.
According to the affidavit by FBI agent Brett Banner, Nikolaenko earned millions since 2007 operating his “botnet,” a network of 509,000 virus-infected computers that spanned the globe and sent out spam e-mails without the knowledge of the computer owners.
Investigators interviewed an Australian seller of fake Rolex watches, who pointed authorities to Internet bulletin boards where marketers enlisted spammers to help sell their goods. Private U.S. computer security firms helped track down Nikolaenko’s botnet, called “Mega-D.”
An FBI agent used one of the spam e-mails — which the affidavit said contain false return addresses to hide the source — to order medications but did not receive what was ordered.
Reporting by John Rondy and Andrew Stern, Editing by Greg McCune