A Latvian computer hacker who said he pocketed between $150,000 to $250,000 by infecting visitors to the Star Tribune website with a malware virus will spend nearly three years in federal prison before being sent back to his home country, a federal judge ordered on Wednesday.
Peteris Sahurovs, 29, was once the FBI's fifth-most wanted cybercriminal and the bureau offered $50,000 for help with his capture. Arrested in Latvia in 2011 to face charges filed in Minnesota, Sahurovs vanished for nearly five years before his arrest in Poland in November 2016.
Sahurovs, also known as "Piotrek" and "Sagade," was extradited to Minnesota last year and pleaded guilty in February to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and was sentenced to 33 months in prison. He admitted to running a "bullet-proof" web hosting service in Latvia, where he leased server space to other cybercriminals from at least May 2009 to June 2011.
Federal authorities said Sahurovs' customers included perpetrators behind malware, botnet, spam and fake anti-virus software schemes.
U.S. Attorney Erica MacDonald is singling out cybercrime among a handful of top priorities since she took office earlier this year. In a statement Wednesday, MacDonald said schemes like those spearheaded by Sahurovs "cause massive disruptions and financial losses to businesses and everyday internet users alike."
"The level of sophistication and the fact that cybercriminals can perpetrate their attack from a computer half way around the world, or right next door, make these cases extremely difficult to investigate and prosecute," MacDonald said. "Thankfully, we have talented prosecutors and agents who are committed to holding these offenders accountable."
Between 2010 and 2011, Sahurovs set his sights on visitors to startribune.com when, he admitted to Senior U.S. District Judge Ann Montgomery, he helped carry out a "scareware" scheme using a phony online advertisement to infect their computers.
Visitors noticed slow system performance and even total system failure, followed by fake pop-up security alerts that their computers were infected by a virus. A second alert urged victims to purchase an "Antivirus Soft" program for $49.95 to fix the problem. Users who bought the fake anti-virus program noticed that their computers resumed working while those that didn't became overwhelmed with the fraudulent alert pop-ups that they could no longer use their computers.