Dressed in leopard-print pyjamas and sunglasses, and clutching a Bengal cat, Russian hacker Evgeniy Bogachev looks like the archetypal Bond villain.
The man behind the infamous GameOver ZeuS malware, which he used to siphon hundreds of millions of dollars from victims’ bank accounts, Bogachev has a $3 million bounty on his head .
The 33-year-old has been indicted in the United States and the FBI is watching his every move, with the intention of pouncing on him if he ever steps foot outside Russian territory.
He reportedly owns a collection of luxury cars and a yacht, which he sails on the Black Sea near his home town of Anapa in southern Russia.
However, as well as lining his own pockets, a new report in the New York Times suggests that Bogachev may be in cahoots with the Russian government.
GameOver ZeuS gave Bogachev complete control over the computers it infected, meaning he could not only raid bank accounts but also access any files stored on the computers.
Some of those computers almost certainly belonged to foreign government officials and contractors, giving Russia’s intelligence services an “irresistible opportunity for espionage,” according to the newspaper.
“While Mr. Bogachev was draining bank accounts, it appears that the Russian authorities were looking over his shoulder, searching the same computers for files and emails,” it reported.
“In effect, they were grafting an intelligence operation onto a far-reaching cybercriminal scheme, sparing themselves the hard work of hacking into the computers themselves.”
The GameOver Zeus malware scheme was shut down in 2014 . However, the FBI believes that Bogachev is still “moonlighting” as a state-sponsored hacker for the Russian government.
He had sanctions levied against him by the Obama administration in late 2016, in response to allegations he helped to hack the US presidential election.
However, Russia does not have an extradition treaty with the US, and Russian officials say that Bogachev has not committed a crime on Russian territory, so there are no grounds to arrest him.
The fact that Bogachev remains at large is “the most powerful argument” that he is an asset of the Russian government, according to the FBI.