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FBI Hunts Russian Man Behind One-Third of the World's Spam

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Federal investigators are currently pursuing a 23-year-old Russian man accused of orchestrating the so-called 'Mega-D' botnet that, at one point, had the capacity to send 10 billion spam e-mails per day. The network of 500,000 infected computers was taken down late last year, but one researcher quoted by the FBI said that Mega-D, at the height of its powers, "was likely the largest botnet in the world, accounting for 32-percent" of the world's spam. Most of the messages sent via the network peddled fake Rolex watches, "herbal remedies," and counterfeit medical prescriptions.

The suspect, Oleg Nikolaenko, had never been linked to the operation or creation of Mega-D, until two convicted spammers, Jody Smith and Lance Atkinson, disclosed their relations with the Moscow resident. At this point, not much is known about Nikolaenko, who allegedly conducted the operation under the online moniker 'Docent.' However, recently obtained financial records and e-mail transcripts reportedly link the spammer directly to the Mega-D botnet.

As The Register explains, Russia has long been considered something of a safe haven for cyber-criminals and spammers, many of whom, according to rumors, were able to elude authorities through bribery. Russia's top political leaders have recently undertaken efforts to crack down on cyber-crime, but local policies remain inconsistent. And it's still unclear whether or not Nikolaenko will even face legal interrogation for his operation.

Sergey Kozerev, for example, was identified as the criminal mastermind behind a massive, Russia-based identity theft operation in 2006. As security blogger Brian Krebs reports, however, Kozerev's operation is just as strong today as it was back then. The country's constitution, moreover, explicitly forbids the extradition of Russian citizens. FBI records show that Nikolaenko traveled to the U.S. twice last year. Now that federal investigators are hot on his trail, though, he may very well want to avoid American soil at all costs.

Tags: botnet, crime, cybercrime, fbi, investigation, mega-d, oleg nikolaenko, OlegNikolaenko, politics, russia, security, spam, spammers, top