NEW YORK (AP) — A man portrayed as the ringleader in an international cyber scam pleaded not guilty Friday to leading several others to infect more than 4 million computers in over 100 countries with software that disabled anti-virus protections and steered users to websites they did not choose.
Among more than a half-million computers infected in the United States were computers belonging to U.S. government agencies, including NASA, as well as educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, commercial businesses and individuals. Prosecutors say the scheme cost NASA more than $65,000 in repairs and others millions of dollars more.
Vladimir Tsastsin, 34, of Estonia, entered the plea through his lawyer in federal court in Manhattan. A prosecutor told a magistrate judge that Tsastsin arrived in the United States on Thursday after his extradition from Estonia.
Wearing jeans and a striped shirt, Tsastsin listened to a translator through headphones as U.S. Magistrate Judge Gabriel W. Gorenstein described an indictment charging him with conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering, among other crimes.
He was arrested a year ago with five other Estonian citizens following a two-year probe by the FBI and Estonian authorities.
His lawyer, Jeremy Schneider, said outside court that his client was "eager to deal with the case."
The indictment accused Tsastsin and the others of earning at least $14 million from 2007 to October 2011 by causing the infected computers to connect with advertising that would result in payments to Tsastsin and his co-defendants.
The indictment said Tsastsin and the others operated rogue servers in New York City and Chicago and funneled money from advertisers to bank accounts in Cyprus, Denmark and Estonia.
In court documents related to Tsastsin's co-defendants, prosecutors have said Tsastsin created a company called Rove Digital in 2002. They said he began using the company in 2007 to commit online advertising fraud after obtaining malware from co-conspirators in Russia that he could install on computers around the world.
Prosecutors said he also sold fake antivirus software to victims whose computers had been infected with what is known as "scareware."
Tsastsin was convicted in Estonia in February 2008 on charges of credit card fraud, money laundering and document forgery, prosecutors said.