Co-writer of infamous Gozi virus spared further jail time

A Latvian man credited with co-writing one of the most destructive computer viruses in history on Tuesday was spared further jail time by a Manhattan district judge, Reuters reports.

ADVERTISEMENT
Deniss Calovskis, 30, was sentenced to the 21 months in prison he has already served, after admitting to writing part of the so-called Gozi virus.

The code was responsible for infecting at least 40,000 U.S. computers, including 160 that belonged to NASA. The Department of Justice called the virus "one of the most financially destructive computer viruses in history.”

Gozi stole tens of millions of dollars from bank accounts around the world by smuggling itself onto hard drives in a benign PDF, then collecting bank account usernames, passwords and other security information. Hackers would then use the information to fraudulently transfer money out of victims’ bank accounts.

Calovskis is responsible for the portion of code that tricked victims into handing over personal information, prosecutors said.

But defense attorney David Bertan insisted that Calovskis, who was working as a freelance programmer at the time, was only compensated $1,000 for his participation and was not involved in the overall scheme. His motivation was only to make a little cash, Bertan said.

"He did not create or write the Gozi virus, he did not participate in collecting data from infected computers, and he did not personally use that data to access financial institutions," Bertan said in court papers, according to The Associated Press.

U.S. District Judge Kimba Wood said she was impressed by Calovskis’ rehabilitation and wanted to be sure that the 10 months he spent in a Latvian prison before being extradited to the United States was taken into account.

According to the Department of Justice, U.S. security experts discovered the virus in Europe in 2007, where it remained “virtually undetectable on the computers it infected.” Gozi spread to the United States around 2010.

Calovskis was arrested in 2012 and extradited to the United States earlier this year. He  pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit computer intrusion in a federal court in September.

Bertan now says he will be able to return to Latvia within a matter of weeks.

Two other suspects charged in the scheme are also in custody

Apparent mastermind Nikita Vladimirovich Kuzmin pleaded guilty in 2011 and has cooperated with the investigation. Mihai Ionut Paunescu was arrested in Romania in 2012, but has not appeared in the U.S. to face charges.