This is a weird Russian story about a spam king being arrested, whose wife, Maria Levashova, said on RT he was told it was because of his involvement with a computer virus “linked to Trump’s election win.”
Alleged Russian hacker Pyotor Levashov, thought to be also known as Peter Severa, was detained over the weekend in Spain.
“Pyotr Levashov was arrested Friday in Barcelona on a U.S. computer crimes warrant, according to a spokeswoman for Spain’s National Court, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with court rules,” the AP reported early Monday morning.
On RT, Levashov’s wife said armed police stormed into their apartment in Spain and eventually arrested her husband, who told her on a call from the police station that he told her he was told he had created a computer virus that was “linked to Trump’s election win.”
Sheera Frenkel in Buzzfeed pointed out that normally the arrest of a spammer wouldn’t make international headlines, but that he had reportedly been recruited by Russia’s national security service, “In 2012, Russian investigative journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, reported that Russian hacker forums believed that Peter Severa (believed to be Levashov’s online alias) had been recruited by the Russia’s national security service, the FSB. The researchers wrote that Peter Severa had been attempting to recruit hackers on online forums.”
There’s a link here to a virus that spread fake news spam about Putin’s opponent in the 2012 Russian election, “The alias of Peter Severa was also named by a 2012 court filing by Microsoft, which outlined how the extensive spam network had been used to spread a host of computer viruses. One of those, the Kelihos virus, was used to spread spam during the 2012 Russian elections that pushed fake news stories about the candidate running against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Those emails included unsubstantiated allegations that Putin’s opponent, Mikhail D. Prokhorov, had come out as gay.”
The 2016 U.S. election was interfered with by Russians, and one of the ways was fake news, often based in Macedonia, that published rabidly anti-Hillary Clinton news.
Severa is a very successful spammer. One of the top ten in 2009, according to Newsweek, which noted at the time, “7. Pyotr Levashov a.k.a. Peter Severa (Russia) The creator of Trojans and author of spam programs became known to the public last year during a trial of Alan Ralsky’s spam gang from Detroit, the largest in the U.S. Nine others were arrested with Ralsky, but not Severa, who is believed to be living in Russia and still working with hackers.”
It’s unclear what role, if any, Severa played in the 2016 election. That connection is being made through the claims of his wife and his alleged history with election spamming for Putin.
We are repeatedly told that the Russians didn’t hack our voting machines, even though they did hack our voting rolls. They “hacked” the election, we are told, with fake news and in other ways.
If Levashov made a virus linked to Donald Trump’s win, that could mean possibly pushing fake news spam with pro-Trump and anti-Clinton stories. Intelligence experts keep saying the actual results weren’t hacked; rather the election was hacked in other ways.
Given all of the vulnerabilities, though, and the Russian expertise on hacking, malware, viruses, and undermining democracy, this might be a good time to revamp our voting machines so that they can’t be easily hacked in 7 minutes.
The U.S. is going after Russian hackers with a vengeance, and it doesn’t seem to be unrelated to Donald Trump’s Russia problem. Add a dash of skepticism to the Russian hacker’s wife’s claims, because they were made on RT and they could be a way of generating sympathy for him with anger against America. But he is known to be a hacker, and he’s been accused of interfering in a previous election to help Putin with the use of fake news spam.
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.