FBI extradites Latvian for malware scheme

The FBI brings an elusive scareware suspect to U.S. courtroom to face multiple wire fraud and conspiracy charges.

Shutterstock image: breached lock.
 

A Latvian man the FBI had sought for the last six years for allegedly scamming an American newspaper and computer users with fake antivirus software finally appeared in a federal court on June 12.

Peteris Sahurovs, also known as "Sagade," had been indicted by federal authorities in 2011 in the District of Minnesota on wire fraud, computer fraud and conspiracy charges for his role in using "scareware" to bilk the Minneapolis Star Tribune and individual computer users out of what the FBI said amounted to $2 million.

According to the FBI, Sahurovs was arrested and detained in Latvia in 2011, but then released by a Latvian court, after which he fled, even though he had promised the authorities he would remain in the country. Polish authorities, said the agency, caught up with Sahurovs last November and arrested him; extradition proceedings then began.

Sahurovs was, at one time, fifth on the FBI's Most Wanted list. The agency offered up a $50,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

His alleged crime was part of growing class of malware that plays on users' fears of other malware.

The FBI said scareware poses as legitimate computer security software that claims it can detect a variety of threats on the affected computer that, in reality, don't exist. Users of infected computers are told they must buy protection against the bogus threats and are then besieged by notifications that lock up their computers until they supply a credit card number to buy a bogus antivirus product.

Sahurovs and his wife, Marina Maslobojeva, allegedly posed as advertising representatives to place fake ads on the Minneapolis newspaper's website that, when clicked, took users to a separate website where their computers were infected with the initial malware.

A new study by RiskIQ said that scareware is on the rise, particularly in the wake of the WannaCry ransomware attacks earlier this year. Mobile phones, according to the study, have been targeted by some of the latest versions, even though such devices aren't susceptible to WannaCry.

The study said it found hundreds of examples of mobile phone scareware apps, with many of them listed on Google Play.

The Department of Homeland Security, in a study released in April on mobile device security, warned that threats to government mobile device users include the same threats that target consumers. Those threats, it said, include ransomware downloads, call interception and monitoring, user location tracking, banking fraud, social engineering, identity theft and device theft, as well as loss of sensitive data.

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