The U.S. Department of Justice said it may have been the most sophisticated computer fraud ever. For Viktor Pleshchuk, it was the chance to buy a brand new BMW and an apartment in his hometown of St. Petersburg.
The 29-year-old last month pleaded guilty to participating in a worldwide hacking scheme that led to the illegal withdrawal of more than $9 million from cash machines worldwide operated by RBS WorldPay Inc., the U.S. payment-processing division of Britain’s Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc.
The conviction shed light on a growing trend from Russia. Just as President Dmitry Medvedev seeks to persuade investors his country is a safe place, more technology graduates are turning to cybercrime. The FBI last week charged 37 suspects from Russia, Ukraine and other eastern European countries of using a computer virus to hack into U.S. bank accounts.
“The number of hackers reflects how many good engineers we potentially have in this country,” Vladimir Dolgov, the president of Google Inc. in Russia, said in a Bloomberg Television interview in Moscow.
Russians committed more than 17,500 computer-related crimes last year, or 25 percent more than in 2008, according to the Interior Ministry’s latest statistics.
While cybercrime is proliferating, Russian laws against it were written in 1998, when hacking was often perceived as a “childish prank,” Boris Miroshnikov, the head of the ministry’s anti-cybercrime department, said in a report posted on the agency’s website.
A ministry spokeswoman said the department has advised Russian lawmakers to impose stiffer penalties on hackers. She declined to be identified, citing department policy.
“We are working on that, but so far we haven’t moved beyond discussions,” she said.
Businesses around the world lose more than $1 trillion in intellectual property due to data theft and cybercrime annually, according to a report in January 2009 by McAfee Inc., the technology security company based in Santa Clara, California.
Seeking to thwart the attacks, U.S. legislators in March proposed to use trade restrictions to penalize countries that provide safe haven to hackers.