‘Mystery’ Russian Hacker Pleads Guilty in Milestone Case

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Andrei Tyurin, a 35-year-old Russian hacker who authorities say played a role in the largest theft of customer data from a U.S. financial institution in history, has pleaded guilty  in Manhattan federal court to computer intrusion, wire fraud, bank fraud and illegal online gambling offenses, in a distinct victory in the legal struggle to bring master hackers to justice.

Tyurin and the others in his criminal ring “targeted major financial institutions, brokerage firms, news agencies, and other companies,” said  Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman.

“With today’s plea, Tyurin’s global reign of computer intrusion is over and he faces significant time in a U.S. prison for his crimes.”

According to the New York Times and other media, Tyurin hacked into 83 million customer accounts at JPMorgan Chase in 2013 and 2014.

“The Russian hacker is alleged to have participated in a global hacking ring that ran illegal internet casinos and payment processors and targeted the publisher of The Wall Street Journal and brokers such as E-Trade and Scottrade,” reported Georgia Today.

Over the last 10 years, U.S. intelligence agencies have arrested more than a dozen Russian hackers in cities across the world. This is one of the first major cases to hit the U.S. courts.

“We Finally Got One!” exclaimed one headline. Charges against the three other men in the ring — including Gery Shalon, a man prosecutors said masterminded the criminal enterprise — are pending. Shalon is an Israeli citizen.

Tyurin was arrested in the nation of Georgia and extradited to the United States.

According to the New York Post, Tyurin was most likely vacationing in Georgia. “Tyurin was detained by Georgian law enforcers on the request of the US side in December, 2017, and his pre-trial detention was extended several times,” reported Georgia Today.

His lawyer, Florian Miedel, said in a statement that his client was “hired by the originators and brains of the scheme to infiltrate vulnerable computer systems at their direction.”

“He has now accepted responsibility for his particular and limited role in this far-reaching conspiracy, and hopes to return to his wife and young daughter as soon as possible,” Miedel said in the statement following Tyurin’s plea on Monday.

Little background is available on the Russian national that Bloomberg News calls a “mystery figure.” His photo is nowhere to be found on the Internet. While many hacker criminals have ties to state officials and law enforcement in Russia, news reports indicate this is not the case with Tyurin.

The bank’s cyber attack was reportedly made possible by the firm’s failure to activate two-factor authentication on a key JP Morgan server.

Public charges were made against Tyurin in 2015, when Preet Bharara was the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Bharara’s office prosecuted numerous cases against Russian hackers and other cybercriminals and was considered a “thorn in the side of Russia.”

Russia’s criticism of cybercrime prosecutions led by Bharara’s office focused on the practice of third-country detentions. “By believing that it is allowed to do all it wants, Washington goes as far as kidnapping our citizens,” the Russian Ministry said.

“Russia’s foreign ministry has warned its citizens traveling abroad of the risks posed by U.S. law enforcement bodies and special services, which it said were hunting for Russians around the world,” reported Reuters in 2015.

“Tyurin’s successful extradition is a major milestone in an investigation spanning four years,” reported Cyberscoop. It “is emblematic of the U.S. strategy of waiting until the accused criminals leave Russia in order to work with cooperating countries to secure the targets’ arrest and extradition. Russia does not extradite citizens accused of crimes to foreign nations.”

Shalon reportedly owned the cryptocurrency exchange Coin.mx, which authorities believe was the source of millions of dollars in laundered money and stock manipulation

The Justice Department statement statement said, “Tyurin engaged in these crimes at the direction of Shalon and in furtherance of other criminal schemes overseen and operated by Shalon and his co-conspirators, including securities fraud schemes in the United States.

For example, in an effort to artificially inflate the price of certain stocks publicly traded in the U.S., Shalon and his co-conspirators marketed the stocks in a deceptive and misleading manner to customers of the victim companies whose contact information Tyurin stole in the intrusions.”

Tyurin is scheduled to be sentenced on February 13, 2020.

Nancy Bilyeau is deputy editor of The Crime Report.

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