Internet dreams turn to crime

Monday, 19 May 2003, 7:57 AM EST

Vasiliy Gorshkov did not set out to be a thief. Relatives and friends say he had wanted to build a dot-com like those he had read about on the other side of the world -- the Amazon.coms, eBays and Yahoos that were becoming household names even in this industrial expanse of dilapidated tenements and factories.

But in the spring of 2000, just three months after he sank his inheritance into a quixotic start-up to build Web sites for corporations, Gorshkov was getting squeezed. Few merchants here wanted to hear about the Internet, much less invest in it. What's worse, Gorshkov told several associates, local crime bosses had started to demand that he hand over a percentage of his earnings to avoid smashed windows, theft of merchandise and broken bones.

Gorshkov, then 24, didn't have the cash. Business associates recalled that he didn't even have enough money to keep paying his four programmers.

But one of those programmers, 19-year-old Alexey Ivanov, said he knew how to raise the protection money, according to lawyers familiar with the conversation. Goshkov could offer a protection service of his own. To online businesses. Six thousand miles away in the United States.

Soon, U.S. prosecutors said, Gorshkov and Ivanov were scouring the Internet looking for security vulnerabilities in the computer networks of American corporations. When they found a way in, they would steal credit card numbers or other valuable information. They would then contact the site's operator and offer to "fix" the breach and return the stolen data -- for a price.

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