Hackers in Russian Feeling the Heat

During late July, when he was arrested on charges of money-laundering Alexander Vinnik, had his status of his secure online messaging account Jabber on “away.”

One person said that Vinnik often took time to make replies so he did not think anything was up as the administrator of a currency exchange was busy.

However, prosecutors in the U.S. said Vinnik used the digital exchange to launder funds and plan to keep the status of Vinnik as “away” for a long time.

The Department of Justice in the U.S. says that Vinnik facilitated different crimes that included computer hacking, drug trafficking and fraud by laundering $4 billion or more through an exchange that used bitcoin and other forms of digital currency dating back to 2011.

The Russian faces as many as 55 years behind bars if he is extradited back to the U.S. He denies all the allegations according to media reports in Greece where he was arrested.

BTC-e, the currency exchange, said that he never worked there.

Vinnik is just one of seven Russians who were indicted or arrested on charges of cybercrime in the U.S. during 2017. On average, only two cyber criminals in Russia were extradited annually to the U.S. between 2010 and 2017.

This increase in the number of pending extraditions shows that although U.S. President Donald Trump wants to improve the relations between he and Moscow, the U.S. has continued to pursue with vigor Russians who are suspected of carrying out cybercrimes.

Prosecutions are coinciding with the increased scrutiny of hackers in Russia since intelligence officials in the U.S. determined that Russia has interfered in the U.S. Presidential election during 2016 using methods of cyber warfare that helped Trump to victory.

Officials at the Kremlin deny the accusations they had interfered with the elections in the U.S. as well as elsewhere.

However, opposition lawmakers in the U.S. questioned whether the president is willing to forcefully respond to Moscow over its cyberspace actions, while the White House avoided accusing Russia publicly over the hacking attacks that were politically motivated.

Alarmed by the proposal by Trump to create a joint cybersecurity unit between the U.S. and Russia, lawmakers in the U.S. have drawn up a bill that requires Trump to notify them prior to doing so.

Four federal U.S. law enforcement officials have said there has not been any centralized effort to increase action against cyber criminals in Russia under Trump.

The increase in arrests stemmed from the breakthroughs in the investigation prior to the election of last year, said two of the officials, whom requested anonymity to speak.

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