Zeus mastermind pleads guilty to cyber theft in US

A Ukrainian man extradited from Europe has pleaded guilty in the US to masterminding malware schemes that cost victims millions of dollars.

Vyacheslav Igorevich Penchukov, 37, of Donetsk, confessed to using the Zeus and IcedID malware kits to steal account numbers, passwords, and other data held on targeted machines so he could illegally log in to bank accounts and clean them out.

Penchukov, aka “Tank,” is believed to have begun his cybercriminal career in 2009 with Zeus, continuing on with IcedID about a decade later.

He and his accomplices infected thousands of business computers with malware, robbing personal data that allowed them to impersonate employees authorized to make transfers and rob their victims of tens of millions of dollars.

A cyberattack launched with IcedID on the University of Vermont Medical Center alone caused damages of over $30 million, leaving it unable to provide critical patient care for two weeks at risk of injury or death.

“Malware like IcedID bleeds billions from the American economy and puts our critical infrastructure and national security at risk,” said US Attorney Michael Easley for the Eastern District of North Carolina. “This operation removed a key player from one of the world’s most notorious cybercriminal rings. Extradition is real. Anyone who infects American computers had better be prepared to answer to an American judge.”

Penchukov was arrested in Switzerland in 2022 and extradited to the US last year. He is due to be sentenced on May 9th and potentially faces decades behind bars.