Atlanta, Georgia - An indictment was unsealed yesterday against two Vietnamese citizens who resided in the Netherlands, for their roles in hacking email service providers throughout the United States. The guilty plea of one of the defendants was also unsealed at the same time. In addition, a federal grand jury returned an indictment this week against a Canadian citizen for conspiring to launder the proceeds obtained as a result of the massive data breach.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney John A. Horn of the Northern District of Georgia, Special Agent in Charge J. Britt Johnson of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Reginald Moore of the United States Secret Service’s (USSS) Atlanta Field Office and Special Agent in Charge Veronica F. Hyman-Pillot with the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation’s (IRS-CI) made the announcement.
“These men — operating from Vietnam, the Netherlands, and Canada — are accused of carrying out the largest data breach of names and email addresses in the history of the Internet,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “The defendants allegedly made millions of dollars by stealing over a billion email addresses from email service providers. This case again demonstrates the resolve of the Department of Justice to bring accused cyber hackers from overseas to face justice in the United States.”
“This case reflects the cutting-edge problems posed by today’s cybercrime cases, where the hackers didn’t target just a single company; they infiltrated most of the country’s email distribution firms,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Horn. “And the scope of the intrusion is unnerving, in that the hackers didn’t stop after stealing the companies’ proprietary data—they then hijacked the companies’ own distribution platforms to send out bulk emails and reaped the profits from email traffic directed to specific websites.”
“Large scale and sophisticated international cyber hacking rings are becoming more problematic for both the law enforcement community that is faced with the challenges of identifying them and laying hands on them, but also the fortune 500 companies that are so often their targets,” said Special Agent in Charge Johnson. “The federal indictments, apprehensions and extraditions in this case represents several years of hard work as the FBI and its cadre of cyber trained agents and technical experts acted quickly to stop the ongoing damage to the numerous victim companies as a result of these individuals’ hacking activities. In August 2012, the FBI, with the assistance of its legal attaches stationed abroad and in conjunction with Dutch law enforcement officials, executed a search warrant in the Netherlands that disrupted continued compromises of those companies while allowing U.S. authorities to advance its investigation. That investigation targeted not only the hackers but the businesses that helped monetize the data that was stolen from those victim companies. This case further reflects the productive partnership of the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service in aggressively addressing this 21st century crime problem.”
“Our success in this case and other similar investigations is a result of our close work with our law enforcement partners,” said Special Agent in Charge Moore. “The Secret Service worked closely with the Department of Justice and the FBI to share information and resources that ultimately brought these cyber criminals to justice. This case demonstrates there is no such thing as anonymity for those engaging in data theft and fraudulent schemes.”
“Those individuals who line their pockets with money gained through deceiving others should know they will not go undetected and will be held accountable,” said Special Agent in Charge Hyman-Pillot. “IRS Criminal Investigation is committed to unraveling financial transactions to ensure that those who engage in these illegal activities are vigorously investigated and brought to justice.”
According to allegations in the indictments, between February 2009 and June 2012, Viet Quoc Nguyen, 28, a citizen of Vietnam, allegedly hacked into at least eight email service providers (ESPs) throughout the United States and stole confidential information, including proprietary marketing data containing over one billion email addresses. Nguyen, along with Giang Hoang Vu, 25, also a citizen of Vietnam, then allegedly used the data to send “spam” to tens of millions of email recipients. The data breach was the largest in U.S. history and was the subject of a Congressional inquiry in June 2011.
David-Manuel Santos Da Silva, 33, of Montreal, Canada, was also indicted by a federal grand jury on March 4, 2015, for conspiracy to commit money laundering for helping Nguyen and Vu to generate revenue from the “spam” and launder the proceeds.
According to allegations in the indictments, Da Silva, the co-owner, president and a director of 21 Celsius Inc., a Canadian corporation that ran Marketbay.com, entered into an affiliate marketing arrangement with Nguyen that allowed the defendants to generate revenue from the computer intrusions and data thefts.
As an affiliate marketer, Nguyen allegedly received a commission on sales generated from Internet traffic that he directed to websites promoting specific products. Nguyen allegedly used the information stolen from the ESPs to send “spam” emails to tens of millions of customers and provided hyperlinks to allow the purchase of the products. These products were marketed by Da Silva’s Marketbay.com.
Between approximately May 2009 and October 2011, Nguyen and Da Silva received approximately $2 million for the sale of products derived from Nguyen’s affiliate marketing activities.
Vu was arrested by Dutch law enforcement in Deventer, Netherlands, in 2012 and extradited to the United States in March 2014. On Feb. 5, 2015, Vu pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit computer fraud. He is scheduled to be sentenced on April 21, 2015, before U.S. District Judge Timothy C. Batten Sr. of the Northern District of Georgia. Nguyen is a fugitive.
Da Silva was arrested based upon charges set forth in a criminal complaint at Ft. Lauderdale International Airport on Feb. 12, 2015, and is scheduled to be arraigned today in Atlanta before Magistrate Judge E. Clayton Scofield III.
The charges contained in an indictment are merely accusations, and defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
This case is being investigated by the FBI with the assistance of the USSS and IRS-CI. Law enforcement in the Netherlands and the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs also provided valuable assistance. This case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Peter Roman of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven D. Grimberg of the Northern District of Georgia.