SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A man with Russian and Moldovan citizenship pleaded guilty to illegally taking control of thousands of electronic devices worldwide to rent them to clients who wanted to hide their internet activity, U.S. prosecutors in Puerto Rico said Tuesday.
The scheme ran from at least June 2019 to December 2022 and generated more than a half-million dollars, with unidentified customers paying hundreds of dollars a month for the service, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Puerto Rico said in a statement.
Authorities said Sergei Makinin developed and deployed malicious software to gain control of people’s devices via an extensive network known as a “botnet,” which was dubbed IPStorm.
He then sold illegal access to the hijacked devices to clients seeking to keep their internet activities private, advertising that he had more than 23,000 “highly anonymous” proxies available worldwide, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Makinin pleaded guilty as part of a deal with federal authorities. A sentencing date has not been scheduled.
His lawyer, Javier Micheo Marcial, declined comment when reached by The Associated Press.
The case was investigated by the FBI’s San Juan office and prosecuted by federal prosecutors in Puerto Rico because infected computers were reported in various towns in the U.S. territory. However, Makinin was living in Spain at the time, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“This case serves as a warning that the reach of the law is long, and criminals anywhere who use computers to commit crimes may end up facing the consequences of their actions in places they did not anticipate,” U.S. Attorney Stephen Muldrow said in a statement.