A German computer scientist got sucked into world politics searching for a subject for his dissertation. Then he uncovered one of the worlds most wanted cyber criminals: a Russian hacker who might also be a spy.[contfnewc] [contfnewc] [contfnewc] [contfnewc]
After weeks of research, one gloomy November afternoon, Christian Rossow found himself in the middle of world politics completely by accident. Sitting in an office just big enough for two desks and a cabinet he was working his way through the mass of numbers blinking on his computer screen when he found something unusual.
The numbers came from the basement one level below, from a room without windows. Only four people besides him had a key. The room is the maximum-security lab of the university he worked for at the time. Whenever Rossow had to go down there he tried to be quick. The room was cold and noisy, there was an old air con keeping the temperature at a steady 19 degrees. This was because of the 15 high-performance computers in the lab, big as wardrobes and highly sensible to heat. Rossow used them as guinea pigs. He would infect them with the latest viruses, Trojans and worms, sent to him daily by the manufacturers of anti-virus programmes. On the screen in his office he was able to assess how much harm each virus can do. Only a handful of computers were connected to the lab in the basement, through a special programme.
The very first number on Rossows screen showed that there was malware raging in the basement of a kind he had rarely witnessed. It was able to connect to hundreds of external computers within minutes. This was exactly what hed been looking for. Rossow conducted a few tests and checked online whether anyone had dealt with this programme already, a technician, a geek maybe, or another scientist. He couldnt find any reference to it. This is it, he thought, finally the perfect case study for his thesis.
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Without knowing it, this was the afternoon Rossow began his hunt for one of the most wanted cyber criminals in the world. Now, five years later, proud but also pale-faced and a little worried he sits at home on a black leather sofa, able to tell his story. He managed to achieve something rare, but the whole thing has spun out of control.
The USA named a phantom, a master of digital theft, as Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev, a 32 year-old Russian citizen with a round face, bald head and dark circles under his eyes. Since then, criminal prosecutors from more than ten countries have tried to catch him, setting undercover agents on him, asking nerds and specialists from the computer industry for help, even talking to companies like Dell and Microsoft. But in the end it was Christian Rossow and his friends who beat Bogachev at his own game.