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Russian hackers bilked firms out of tens of millions of dollars

[WASHINGTON] Eight people, most of them Russian, have been indicted in US court for mounting complex fake advertising schemes that caused companies to lose tens of millions of dollars.

In one scheme, dubbed "Methbot" and launched in 2014, the accused internet swindlers rented more than 1,900 computer servers located in commercial datacentres in several US cities, and would use them to simulate humans viewing ads on webpages they had fabricated, US prosecutors said.

They said the botnet-based ad network was thus able to falsify billions of ad views and forced businesses to pay more than US$7 million for ads that had never in fact been viewed by true, human internet users.

A separate, more lucrative scheme that began in 2015 saw two of the accused operate a fake advertising network for another fraudulent digital ad scheme.

They used a network of 1.7 million malware-infected computers to falsify billions of ad views, which cost businesses more than US$29 million for ads also not seen by human internet users, court papers show.

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Russian nationals Aleksandr Zhukov, Boris Timokhin, Mikhail Andreev (who is also Ukrainian), Denis Avdeev, Dmitry Novikov and Aleksandr Isaev, along with Sergey Ovsyannikov and Yevgeniy Timchenko of Kazakhstan were named in a 13-count indictment unsealed on Tuesday in federal court in New York.

They were indicted on charges that include wire fraud, computer intrusion, aggravated identity theft and money laundering.

Ovsyannikov, Zhukov and Timchenko were arrested abroad in recent weeks, while the other accused are at large.

"As alleged, these individuals built complex, fraudulent digital advertising infrastructure for the express purpose of misleading and defrauding companies who believed they were acting in good faith, and costing them millions of dollars," FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William Sweeney said in a statement.

"This kind of exploitation undermines confidence in the system, on the part of both companies and their customers."

In June, the US imposed sanctions on five Russian companies and three individuals accused of having conducted hacking operations on behalf of Russia.


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