‘King of Spam’ taken down by Milwaukee FBI agent

As the saying goes, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. But when the Vegas visitor is one of the world’s top spam artists and is caught by a Milwaukee FBI agent, the spammer then ventures to Milwaukee for criminal charges.

Oleg Nikolaenko, the man who is responsible for roughly one-third of the world’s spam, was caught by an FBI agent from Milwaukee while in Las Vegas on Nov. 4, according to a press release sent out by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Nikolaenko was in the United States attending an auto show in Las Vegas when he was arrested. He is currently being held in Milwaukee.

“He was brought to Milwaukee primarily because the officer assigned to the case was from the Milwaukee area,” said Dean Puschnig, law enforcement coordinator for the United States Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

Nikolaenko created the “Mega-D” spam-bot, a robot network that was responsible for infecting more than half a million computers.

Nikolaenko used false headlines to try to sell fake products disguised as other brand-name products, such as Viagra. The FBI purchased one of these products and instead of receiving Viagra, they received an herbal pill.

The press release said Nikolaenko was indicted for transmitting more than 250,000 electronic spam messages. Allegedly, he is responsible for sending a much higher number of messages, but the offense becomes criminal when the 250,000-message benchmark is exceeded.

He may have sent out as many as 10 billion in one day.

The producing of spam can occur exponentially and stealthily, which is how Nikolaenko was able to send out so much spam.

“What happens is someone will infest a computer with a virus, and that computer will send out messages without them knowing,” said Eric Jonardi, a junior in the College of Engineering, who used to work for Marquette IT Services. “It’s just like a normal virus. If you go to a website that has a virus, your computer is infected. Apply that same concept to spam e-mail.”

After infecting one computer, that computer would send out many more to other computers until thousands of computers were sending out hundreds of e-mails a day.

“Certain software has vulnerabilities, so if you click on something that has been programmed to exploit those vulnerabilities, you could be in trouble,” Jonardi said.

The spam takes time and money to remove from computers. Because of this, spam victims are forced to bring in their computers to technical services and pay to have it removed.

In order to make sure that computers are kept clean, Jonardi suggested installing and using reliable and reputable anti-virus software. He urges people to be mindful of their actions on the Internet.

“Be very smart about what you do online,” Jonardi said. “Don’t go clicking on everything you see.”