On Friday, a Seattle Federal District Court judge sentenced 32 year old Roman Valerevich Seleznev to 27 years in prison for running a vast credit card and identity theft operation, selling millions of credit card numbers on the black market. This was the longest sentence handed down for hacking-related charges in the United States.
Seleznev’s schemes led to losses of at least $170 million. Among Mr. Seleznev’s victims were 3,700 financial institutions and 500 businesses around the world, including several restaurants in the Seattle area.
Seleznev is the son of Valery Seleznev, an outspoken member of the Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament, and a close political ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Up to now, US law enforcement has had very little cooperation capturing and convicting Russians accused of hacking crimes. Russian cybercriminals can operate with impunity as long as they do not hack inside Russia itself. In return for that relative freedom, cybercriminals are often tapped to work for Russia’s intelligence agencies.
Next time, stay home
Only when Russian cyber criminals are dumb enough to travel outside of Russia that US law enforcement is able to detain them, most recently in Prague and in Barcelona. However, Secret Service officials say more than three dozen Eastern European hackers suspected in crimes remain out of reach.
Seleznev never traveled to any country that had an extradition treaty with the U.S. For more than a decade, the Secret Service tracked his movements around the globe but couldn't do anything about him.
Then Summer 2014, Seleznev and his girlfriend took a vacation in Maldives which doesn't have an extradition treaty with the U.S. either, but the US State Department convinced local authorities to help capture Seleznev anyway. He was arrested by Malidivian police at the airport on his way home and handed over to U.S. officials, who whisked him by jet to Guam and then to a federal prison in Washington State.
Seleznev wrote an 11-page letter (PDF) by hand to the court this year, admitting to and apologizing for his crimes.
“Today is a bad day for hackers around the world,” said Annette L. Hayes, the United States attorney for the Western District of Washington. “The notion that the internet is a Wild West where anything goes is a thing of the past.”
That's great PR of course, but the reality is that Vladimir Putin uses hackers for his own nefarious purposes, and will provide them air cover as long as they behave and go for a "staycation" instead of tropical islands.