Russian Sentenced to 10 Years in US for Cybercrime

07 May, 2016

This week, a court in the United States sentenced a Russian man charged with creating a modern form of cybercrime.

About 10 years ago, Nikita Kuzmin created a malicious software program called Gozi.

Gozi came to a user's computer through a file, such as a PDF, that looked normal. However, when the file was opened, Gozi attacked the person's computer.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara holds a news conference on the Gozi virus in New York January 23, 2013.
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara holds a news conference on the Gozi virus in New York January 23, 2013.

The user had no idea the malware was running. As a result, the software could easily collect information, such as a bank username and password, and send the data back to hackers.

Gozi eventually infected more than 1 million computers. It caused tens of millions of dollars in damages. The infected computers included hundreds at NASA, America's space agency.

Kuzman said he did not steal bank account information himself. Instead, he made money by providing Gozi to others who did not know how to create malware themselves.

Then Kuzman collected part of whatever those hackers stole. Court documents report that he earned at least $250,000.

Federal prosecutors charged Kuzmin with conspiracy, bank fraud and computer intrusion. But they say Kuzmin's crimes are much bigger than stealing.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara noted that the cybercrimes cannot be stopped by arresting one person.

"Because Kuzmin sold the Gozi source code to others, Gozi can be used by others, and it is in fact still in wide use by criminals today," Bharara told the court.

He called Kuzmin greedy. He noted Kuzmin's computer science education and legal business projects.

"Kuzmin used his talent and skills to create malware with the single purpose of stealing other people's money, and when he succeeded in doing that, he spent lavish sums on luxury sports cars, and extravagant travel and entertainment in Europe and Russia."

The court said Kuzmin's punishment is the 37 months he has already spent in prison. The court ordered him to pay $6.9 million for banks' losses.

Kuzmin earned a lighter sentence after helping the government investigate other people accused of cybercrimes: Latvian national Deniss Calovskis and Romanian Mihai Paunescu.

I'm Anne Ball.

Kelly Jean Kelly adapted this story for Learning English. VOA's Chris Hannas contributed to the story. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

cybercrime – n. a crime done through a computer or other electronic device

malicious – adj. having or showing a desire to cause harm to others

malware – n. a software program designed to interfere with a computer's normal operations

hacker – n. someone who secretly uses a computer system to get information or cause damage

greedy – adj. having or showing a selfish desire to have more of something

lavish – adj. giving or using a large amount of something