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As Trump Seeks Warmer Moscow Ties, Russian Hackers Feel The Heat

As Trump Seeks Warmer Moscow Ties, Russian Hackers Feel The Heat
The status of his Jabber secure online messaging account was set to “away” when Alexander Vinnik was arrested on money-laundering charges at a Greek hotel in late July.
“He often takes some time to reply, so at first I didn’t think anything of it,” said one person who knew the Russian as an administrator of a digital currency exchange which U.S. prosecutors say was used to launder criminal funds.
“Then when I saw his picture on the news, I knew he would be ’away’ for a long time,” said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
by laundering at least $4 billion through BTC-e -- an exchange used to trade bitcoin and other digital currencies -- since 2011, Vinnik facilitated crimes including computer hacking, fraud and drug, the U.S. Justice Department says.
Based on U.S. cyber crime charges, Vinnik is now one of seven Russians arrested or indicted this year. According to a Reuters review of U.S. Justice Department filings, Russian government statements and sources briefed on the matter, between 2010 and the start of this year, on average, just two Russian cyber criminals were extradited to the United States each year.
The United States has not shied away from pursuing Russians suspected of cyber crime , although President Donald Trump is trying to improve relations with Moscow shown by the increase to a record level.
Questioning that the White House has avoided publicly accusing Russia over recent politically-motivated hacking attacks, U.S. opposition lawmakers have questioned whether Trump is willing to respond forcefully to Moscow over its actions in cyberspace.
U.S. lawmakers have also drawn up a draft bill that would require him to notify lawmakers before he does so, alarmed by Trump’s proposal to create a joint U.S.-Russia cyber security unit.
There had been no centralized effort to step up action against Russian cyber criminals under Trump, said four U.S. federal law enforcement officials, who talked about the recent arrests with the sections of the media on condition of anonymity.
Two of the sources said that breakthroughs made in investigations before last year’s election was responsible for the increase in the number of arrests.
Following the election hacking scandal, individual agents may now be more motivated to move against Russian cyber criminals, some U.S. officials, however, acknowledged.
From taking down the computer networks of multi-national companies and government departments to small-time thefts of online banking details, Russian hackers are active at all levels of cyber crime.
Resources had already been moving towards pursuing Russian nationals before the 2016 election, said John Carlin, who until last October ran the national security division of the U.S. Justice Department as assistant attorney general.
But he added: “Their outrageous activity to undermine the integrity of our election, like they did in western Europe before and have done since, can only have added fuel to the fire.”
The arrests have shaken the Russian cyber crime community, according to interviews with five people who knew the men arrested this year -- all of whom declined to be named for fear of prosecution.
“Now they are arresting even those who had a super indirect, not even direct connection to what they call influencing their election,” said one who knew Vinnik by his online moniker WME.

Christopher J. Mitchell

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