The Department of Justice has proceeded with unsealed charges against eight people who allegedly spoofed the infamous 3Ve and Methbot online advertising scams. The defendants, mainly from Russia, are accused of having collected more than $ 36 million from companies who thought they were paying for advertising on websites. But the ads have never been seen by a human being. Instead, the defendants would have used a farm and a botnet to simulate billions of hits on real pages.
A press release indicates that three of the alleged crooks – Sergey Ovsyannikov and Yevgeniy Timchenko of Kazakhstan and Aleksandr Zhukov of Russian nationality – were arrested last month. The other five, Boris Timokhin, Mikhail Andreev, Denis Avdeev, Dmitry Novikov and Aleksandr Isaev, are still on the run.
The group reportedly implemented two separate but linked fraud schemes. The first, Methbot, reported $ 7 million between September 2014 and December 2016. The alleged perpetrators made agreements with advertising networks to place ads and then used rented servers to simulate the fact that real users are visiting falsified web pages and consult advertisements. The second, 3ve, reportedly earned $ 29 million between December 2015 and October 2018. It was based on similar principles, but instead of server farms, it used a full-fledged botnet of 1.7 million. infected computers.
The defendants are charged with electronic fraud, money laundering, aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit a computer intrusion. They were arrested in a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security and a group of private companies, including Google and computer security company White Ops, which revealed for the first time Methbot's existence at the end of 2016.
White Ops estimated that Methbot's operators were raising between $ 3 and $ 5 million a day from advertisers. White Ops said the program "brought new levels of advertising fraud innovation," operating on an unprecedented scale that frightened advertisers. Some analysts have questioned these figures and, according to today's indictment, the total cost does not seem to be as high as the original estimates. But it was still a vast, complex and surprisingly long operation.