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Russian charged in hacking case pleads in Georgia federal court

Channel 2's Aaron Diamant reports.

A Russian national who allegedly developed, improved and maintained the “Citadel” malware toolkit, pleaded not guilty in federal court Monday in Atlanta, officials say.

Mark Vartanyan, also known as “Kolypto,” was extradited from Norway in December 2016 and charged with computer fraud, U.S. District Attorney John Horn said in a news release.

“The malware toolkit that's at issue in this case was one of the primary banking Trojans that was used worldwide,” Horn told Channel 2 Action News.

An illustration of Mark Vartanyan in federal court Tuesday in Atlanta (Credit: Channel 2 Action News)
An illustration of Mark Vartanyan in federal court Tuesday in Atlanta (Credit: Channel 2 Action News)

Citadel was designed to infect computer systems and steal financial and personal information from victim computer networks, Horn said.

Beginning in or about 2011, Citadel was offered for sale on invite-only, Russian-language internet forums frequented by cyber-criminals.

Between 2012 and 2014, Vartanyan helped develop and distribute Citadel, which infected approximately 11 million computers worldwide and is responsible for over $500 million in losses, according to industry estimates.

Horn said because of valuable partnerships with law enforcement worldwide, police arrested Vartanyan in Norway in 2014.

Vartanyan is the second defendant charged in connection with an ongoing investigation of the Citadel malware. Dimitry Belorossov, a 22-year-old also known as “Rainerfox,” of St. Petersburg, Russia, was sentenced in September 2015 to four and a half years in prison following his guilty plea for conspiring to commit computer fraud for distributing and installing Citadel onto victim computers using a variety of infection methods.

While he pleaded not guilty Monday, prosecutors told Channel 2 Vartanyan plans to plead guilty at a hearing next week.

In other news:

Man with lengthy arrest record allegedly caused thousands of dollars in damage right outside of a police precinct.