Russian internet blackmailers jailed for extorting gambling websites

IT security firm Sophos has welcomed news reports that authorities in Russia have jailed a gang who blackmailed online companies through distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks.

The gang is said to have extorted more than two million pounds sterling from British online casinos and betting shops after threatening to attack their websites, making them inaccessible to the outside world. Ivan Maksakov, Alexander Petrov, and Denis Stepanov were each sentenced to eight years in prison and a fine of nearly 2,000 pounds.

Victims of the online blackmail gang included Canbet Sports Bookmakers, who refused to pay a 5,000 pound ransom demand and found their website had been taken out of action by the hackers during the Breeders’ Cup Races, losing them more than 100,000 pounds in lost business for each day of downtime.

According to prosecutors, the gang made over 50 similar blackmail attacks in 30 different countries during their six months of activity.

“Malicious DDoS attacks on commercial websites can cause serious financial damage to the businesses affected, and are a major nuisance to internet users,” said Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at Sophos. “These sentences should send a strong message to other internet hackers considering online blackmail, that they can expect stiff sentences if caught. However, many gangs may believe that the relative anonymity of the internet gives them carte blanche to carry on. All computer users should ensure that they have secure defences in place to protect against abuse like this.”

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