It’s been a remarkable week for cyber justice. On Thursday, a Ukrainian man who hatched a plan in 2013 to send heroin to my home and then call the cops when the drugs arrived was sentenced to 41 months in prison for unrelated cybercrime charges. Separately, a 19-year-old American who admitted to being part of a hacker group that sent a heavily-armed police force to my home in 2013 was sentenced to three years probation.
Sergey Vovnenko, a.k.a. “Fly,” “Flycracker” and “MUXACC1,” pleaded guilty last year to aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Prosecutors said Vovnenko operated a network of more than 13,000 hacked computers, using them to harvest credit card numbers and other sensitive information.
When I first became acquainted with Vovnenko in 2013, I knew him only by his many hacker names, including “Fly” and “Flycracker,” among others. At the time, Fly was the administrator of the fraud forum “thecc[dot]bz,” an exclusive and closely guarded Russian language board dedicated to financial fraud and identity theft.
After I secretly gained access to his forum, I learned he’d hatched a plot to have heroin sent to my home and to have one of his forum lackeys call the police when the drugs arrived.
I explained this whole ordeal in great detail in 2015, when Vovnenko initially was extradited from Italy to face charges here in the United States. In short, the antics didn’t end when I foiled his plot to get me arrested for drug possession, and those antics likely contributed to his arrest and to this guilty plea.
Vovnenko contested his extradition from Italy, and in so doing spent roughly 15 months in arguably Italy’s worst prison. During that time, he seemed to have turned his life around, sending me postcards at Christmas time and even an apparently heartfelt apology letter.
On Thursday, a judge in New Jersey sentenced Vovnenko to 41 months in prison, three years of supervised released and ordered him to pay restitution of $83,368.
Separately, a judge in Washington, D.C. handed down a sentence of three year’s probation to Eric Taylor, a hacker probably better known by his handle “Cosmo the God.”
Taylor was among several men involved in making a false report to my local police department at the time about a supposed hostage situation at our Virginia home. In response, a heavily-armed police force surrounded my home and put me in handcuffs at gunpoint before the police realized it was all a dangerous hoax known as “swatting.”
CosmoTheGod rocketed to Internet infamy in 2013 when he and a number of other hackers set up the Web site exposed[dot]su, which routinely “doxed” dozens of public officials and celebrities by publishing the address, Social Security numbers and other personal information on the former First Lady Michelle Obama, the then-director of the FBI and the U.S. attorney general, among others. The group also swatted many of the people they doxed.
Taylor and his co-conspirators were able to dox so many celebrities and public officials because they hacked a Russian identity theft service called ssndob[dot]ru. That service in turn relied upon compromised user accounts at data broker giant LexisNexis to pull personal and financial data on millions of Americans.
Taylor earned a sentence of probation only because he agreed to assist the FBI in their investigation. At least two other young men connected to the exposed[dot]su conspiracy have already been sentenced to prison.
Among them was Mir Islam, a 22-year-old Brooklyn man who was sentenced last year to two years in prison for doxing and swatting, and for cyberstalking a young woman whom he also admitted to swatting. Because he served almost a year of detention prior to his sentencing, Islam was only expected to spend roughly a year in prison, although it appears he was released before even serving the entire year.
Hours after his sentencing, Taylor reached out to KrebsOnSecurity via Facetime to apologize for his actions. Taylor, a California native, said he is trying to turn his life around, and that he has even started his own cybersecurity consultancy.
“I live in New York City now, have a baby on the way and am really trying to get my shit together finally,” Taylor said.
If Taylor’s physical appearance is any indication, he is indeed turning over a new leaf. At the time he was involved in publishing exposed[dot]su, the six-foot, seven-inch CosmoTheGod was easily a hundred pounds heavier than he is now.
Unfortunately, not everyone in Taylor’s former crew is making changes for the better. According to Taylor, his former co-conspirator Islam was recently re-arrested after allegedly cyberstalking Taylor’s girlfriend. That stalking claim could not be independently confirmed, however court documents show that Islam was indeed re-arrested and incarcerated last month in New York.