Inside the Eastern European Cybercrime Network That Brought Down NASA

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Today federal authorities charged three men with building and disseminating a virus that crippled NASA computers and brought in tens of millions of dollars for cybercriminals. The new court documents detail the inner workings of Eastern Europe's cybercrime market. 

Eastern Europe has long been a haven for hackers posing a threat to Western online security. Remember that scoop The Wall Street Journal scored back in 2009, when their reporters detailed a $10 million sting perpetrated against Citigroup by Russian hackers using software that only costs about $40? Or the six Estonians who were indicted by the DoJ in 2011 for juking online traffic stats? Cyber security experts rank Russia alongside China on the list of greatest threats in the "cyber cold war." The latest case the U.S. is trying to crack involves three men: Mihai Ionut Paunescu of Romania, Deniss Calovskis of Latvia, and Nikita Kuzmin, a Russian. Today, charges against these men held them responsible for the Gozi virus, a bug designed in 2005 and mobilized in 2007 that found its way into over a million computers throughout the world.

By using Gozi to round up online banking passwords, the hackers were allegedly able to steal tens of millions of dollars. The virus was also apparently responsible for breaching around 190 NASA computers between 2007 and 2012, giving the hackers access to sensitive Gchats and other communications within the aerospace agency. Today's allegations also claim that Kuzmin, thought to be the architect of Gozi, was selling his virus in online cybercrime forums to anyone willing to pay a weekly fee. He'd even give people the source code for as little as $50,000. He plead guilty to the charges today. Calovskis and Paunescu stand accused of conspiracy, wire-fraud, and conspiracy to commit computer intrusion. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.