New East Digital Archive
Beyond the grid
Slipping through the net
Russian hackers vs the world

Russian hackers are notorious for their dubious skills: from the evil programmer and James Bond’s nemesis in GoldenEye to the largest cybercrime case in American history. And while hackers from other countries can quite often be motivated by ideology, most Russian cybercriminals have earned a reputation as digital pickpockets more interested in cleaning out other people’s bank accounts than making a statement.

And though it is universally accepted that most hackers are just crooks, cyber crime is still often admired for the technicality and intelligence that goes into it, making it a heady cocktail of art, science and felony. And even though Russian hackers might be less active than their Chinese and Latin American colleagues, the quality of their attacks mark them out as world leaders in the field. Here are some of the Russian names that have sown panic in the cybersecurity world.

1. Anonymous International

This hacker group also goes by the name of Shaltay Boltay, the Russian translation of Humpty Dumpty. Arguably the most famous hacker group in Russia at the moment, Anonymous International have taken responsibility for a great deal of recent cyber attacks and document leaks. They published the personal email archives of several Russian government figures and leaked various secret documents (for example, reports about spying on opposition leaders after protests in Moscow). But their best-known feat is hacking into Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s Twitter account and posting humorous tweets for half an hour while Medvedev’s representatives struggled to get the account back. They say they are not in it for the money. However, since the group is very secretive, some doubts have been expressed about their methods, motives and allegiance. Their site hosts the group’s archive of leaked files and is blocked in Russia by the internet regulator Roskomnadzor, but can still be easily accessed with a VPN.



2. Vladimir Levin

Levin, a biochemist from St Petersburg, is a cult figure of Russian cybercrime, and is considered to be one of the fathers of hacking. In 1994, with a team of accomplices, Levin gained access to Citibank and transferred over $10 million into various accounts in different countries. Levin was promptly caught and convicted in 1998 in the US. This was a big spectacle. Described by reporters as a “mix of a hippy and Rasputin” Levin couldn’t speak English around the time he committed the crime (he learnt the language in jail in America: his only knowledge before was computer terminology). After Levin was convicted, a different hacking group from St Petersburg claimed that they were the ones to originally gain access to Citibank — which they then sold to Levin for $100.

3. Igor Klopov

Klopov’s story is much like the plot of American Hustle, marked by a naive take on the American dream. The 24-year old Moscow State University graduate used the Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans to find his targets. Then, from his laptop in Moscow, he hired American accomplices, promising them cash, stays in five-star hotels and limousines. Using what prosecutors later called “a combination of internet smarts and old-fashioned techniques, like forging driver’s licences”, Klopov and his accomplices stole $1.5 million and attempted to steal $10 million more when they were caught. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced in 2007.



4. The Koobface Gang

Unlike most other hackers on this list, the members of the Koobface (an anagram of Facebook) Gang — all later identified as Russian citizens from St Petersburg — didn’t attack companies and people directly. Instead, they created a computer worm that targeted various social platforms (Facebook, Skype, Gmail, Yahoo Messenger and many others) to infect the users’ networks and steal personal data. An investigation into the group’s activity showed an exquisite system that made it almost impossible for the police to justify the resources to investigate the group’s crimes: “the combined earnings were derived from thousands of individual micro-transactions on the order of a fraction of a penny each, spread across victims in dozens of national jurisdictions”. The Koobface worm used a popular malware strategy which lured users to click links with captions like “You have to watch this video! You won’t believe what your friend X said about you!” The worm was discovered and shut down in 2012, after the names of the Koobface Gang members had been announced in media.

5. Vladislav Khorokhorin

Hiding behind the name BadB, Khorokhorin ran two online shops ,which specialised in selling bank card users’ data. A promotional cartoon shows BadB, a cartoon man in an ushanka hat, selling credit card information belonging to cartoon versions of George W Bush and Condoleezza Rice, among others. He ran his illegal business for over eight years before he was arrested in 2010 in France. Comments like ‘RIP BadB’ accompanying his promotional video on Youtube confirm Khorokhorin as a truly prolific hacker. After Khorokhorin was arrested, he hired the famous New York-based attorney Arkady Bukh, who specialises in cybercrimes. Bukh argued that Khorokhorin was not in fact BadB, and in an interview with Forbes, claimed that his client had made his millions by running a Tesla Motors dealership in Moscow. This was denied by Tesla, who claimed never even to have had a dealership in Russia. In 2013 Khorokhorin was sentenced to 88 months in prison and ordered to pay $125,739 in restitution.

Text: Sasha Raspopina