The man accused of running the Mega-D spam-spewing botnet has pleaded not guilty to charges that he was using the botnet to send millions of spam messages a day, some of them laden with malware.
Oleg Nikolaenko was arraigned in U.S. District Court in Wisconsin on Friday on charges that he violated the CAN-SPAM Act by using the Mega-D botnet to send spam from millions of bot-infected machines. He is being held without bail in Milwaukee, according to the Associated Press.
FBI officials found out about Nikolaenko in the course of another investigation involving one of his alleged associates in the botnet operation. That investigation was looking into a massive spam and affiliate marketing program dubbed “Affking” and were told by a man named Lance Atkinson that one of the major affiliates in the program was a Russian he knew as “Docent.” Investigators used subpoenas and search warrants to get access to a Gmil account belonging to Docent and eventually tied it to Nikolaenko.
In a complaint filed by FBI Special Agent Brent Banner, the bureau alleges that Nikolaenko was one of the major movers behind the Mega-D botnet, which at one time was reportedly responsible for as much as a third of all of the spam on the Internet.
“A review of the emails contained in the email@example.com account also revealed numerous executable files which were analyzed by the director of malware research at Secure Works. In the director’s expert opinion, provided to the FBI on October 31, 2010, copies of the executable files found in the firstname.lastname@example.org are samples of the malware family known as Mega-D,” Banner wrote in his complaint. “Based on my review of the emails to which these executable are attached, I believe they were being emailed to another individual who, like Lance Atkinson, wanted to use Nikolaenko’s botnet to send spam messages.”
Nikolaenko’s attorney told The AP that he was concerned about the publicity surrounding the case and how it might affect Nikolaenko’s trial.
“Some people still harbor Cold War images of people from Russia,” Christopher Van Wagner told The AP. “You take one look at Oleg, he
looks like a kid you find in a basement munching nachos and playing Wii.”
Mega-D at one point was the most prolific spam-producing botnet, pumping out tens of millions of junk emails a day advertising fake watches and the always-popular male-enhancement pills. A group of researchers at anti-malware company FireEye were able to cripple much of the botnet’s ability to send spam late last year by sinkholing the botnet’s command-and-control servers and preventing the bot-infected PCs from contacting them for instructions.