Hacker who tried to get a U.S. journalist busted for heroin pleads guilty to botnet conspiracy

A Ukrainian hacker who once tried to frame an American journalist by mailing him heroin purchased on the Deep Web has pleaded guilty to massive computer fraud charges.

Sergey Vovnenko, 29 who went by a host of nicknames like “Flycracker” and “Fly,” has admitted to helping run a massive scheme in which he and his partners ran a botnet of 13,000 computers. According to the indictment against him, Vovnenko gained access to a host of computers, including one tied to an unnamed major bank. He used the common malware program Zeus to record users’ keystrokes, then sent himself their money and sold users’ login credentials online.

The Secret Service, which arrested Vovnenko in Italy, weren’t the only ones to track him down. In a bizarre tale, the hacker decided in 2013 to set his sights on independent security reporter Brian Krebs, taunting him on Twitter and posting Krebs’s personal information online. 

Krebs then infiltrated Vovnenko’s private web forum and found a dastardly plan: The Ukrainian wanted to buy large quantities of heroin on then-thriving black market the Silk Road, ship it to Krebs’s house, and then tell local police the researcher was a major heroin dealer. Krebs informed the FBI and local police of the plan before the drugs arrived, and then again once they came in the mail. He was not arrested.

After authorities arrested Vovnenko, he gave Krebs some sense of closure by mailing him a postcard from Naples, where he was imprisoned before his extradition to the U.S.

Vovnenko faces up to 20 years in prison and $250,000 in fines for his alleged crimes.

Photo via Davide Restivo/Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed

Kevin Collier

Kevin Collier

A former senior politics reporter for the Daily Dot, Kevin Collier focuses on privacy, cybersecurity, and issues of importance to the open internet. Since leaving the Daily Dot in March 2016, he has served as a reporter for Vocativ and a cybersecurity correspondent for BuzzFeed.