Spain arrests Russian hacking suspect

Spain arrests Russian hacking suspect

A Russian computer programmer has been arrested in Barcelona, Moscow’s embassy in Madrid has announced.

Spain has not revealed why Pyotr Levashov, who is suspected of being the notorious Russian hacker Peter Severa, was being held.

Severa reportedly refused to meet business associates in person and never used a phone, instead using an encrypted messaging services. Western cybersecurity researchers have identified Levashov as Peter Severa, although some observers doubt he is the same person.

RT, the Russian government-supported television channel, said Levashov had been arrested under a US international arrest warrant and was suspected of being involved in hacking attacks linked to alleged Russian interference in last November’s US presidential election.

RT is not regarded as a reliable news source in the west.

Western computer researchers who have linked the long-running computer spam business of the hacker called Peter Severa to malware used in 2012 to influence a Russian election. They say his arrest could give other investigations key information.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for the US Department of Justice’s criminal division, said: “The US case remains under seal, so we have no information to provide at this time.”

The criminal and national security divisions are separate. The national security department is responsible for probing state-sponsored cyber breaches. A justice department source said it was a criminal investigation without an apparent national security connection.

Russia’s internet sector is a repository of pornography and pirated content, from which global fraud schemes emerge. Spamhaus, a group that tracks spammers, names Peter Severa on its list of top 10 perpetrators in the world, and has identified him as Levashov.

In January the Spanish authorities arrested another Russian programmer, referred to as “Lisov”, who was allegedly wanted by the US for leading a financial fraud network.

The US has formally accused Russian cyber criminals of hacking Democratic Party emails to aid Donald Trump’s campaign. US congressional committees and the FBI are also examining links between Russia and Trump.

Russian cybersecurity researchers Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan wrote in 2012 that participants in online Russian hacker forums were discussing whether Peter Severa had been recruited by the FSB, the successor to the KGB. They said Peter Severa had been on closed chat sites trying to recruit underground hackers for a later abandoned effort by Russia’s security services to crash Islamic extremist websites.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied trying to influence the US election.

Monitoring a simulated test at Eglin Air Force Base. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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