‘Most wanted’ man pleads guilty in cyberattack that disrupted Vermont hospital

A Ukrainian man pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court to his leading role in two cyberattack schemes that caused tens of millions of dollars in losses and temporarily crippled a Vermont hospital in 2020, according to the Department of Justice.

Prosecutors said Vyacheslav Igorevich Penchukov, 37, was the leader of an organization that in May 2009 began infecting thousands of computers at corporations with malicious software, and that he helped lead a separate malware scheme that began around November 2009. 2018.

Mr. Penchukov, of Donetsk, pleaded guilty in the United States District Court in Nebraska to one count of conspiracy to commit a crime in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and one count of conspiracy to commit fraud electronic. He was arrested in Switzerland in 2022 and extradited to the United States in 2023. A lawyer could not be found for Penchukov because the court file was sealed.

The Justice Department said that Penchukov helped lead “a wide-ranging conspiracy and extortion enterprise” that installed malicious software known as Zeus on thousands of business computers, starting in 2009. The malware allowed the company to collect information used to log into online banking accounts, including passwords and personal identification numbers.

Penchukov and other members of the group then presented themselves as employees of the corporations who were authorized to transfer money from the accounts they targeted, causing millions of dollars in losses, according to the Justice Department.

The money was deposited into accounts of residents of the United States and other countries known as “money mules,” and then those people sent it to offshore accounts managed by Penchukov and other members of the group, according to the Justice Department.

Mr. Penchukov had been accused of these crimes in 2012 while he was still a fugitive, according to an indictment that was made public in 2014.

On Thursday, Penchukov also pleaded guilty to his leading role in the separate malware scheme that ran from at least November 2018 to February 2021, according to federal prosecutors.

The malware, known as IcedID or Bokbot, was installed on computers to collect victims’ personal information, including bank account credentials, and the data was used to steal from them, according to the Department of Justice. IcedID also allowed cybercriminals to install more malware on infected computers, including ransomware, which is used to lock digital information until the victim pays for its release.

Targets of these ransomware attacks included the University of Vermont Medical Center, which lost more than $30 million, according to the Department of Justice. An attack on the hospital in 2020 also “left the medical center unable to provide many services to critically ill patients for more than two weeks, creating a risk of death or serious bodily injury to patients,” the Justice Department said.

Workers at the University of Vermont Medical Center told The New York Times in November 2020 that the attack had forced the hospital to lay off hundreds of cancer patients and required staff to search written records to find important information.

In September 2023, the medical center’s president, Dr. Stephen Leffler, testified in the House of Representatives and said the hospital did not have access to electronic medical records for 28 days due to the attack.

“We didn’t have internet” Dr. Leffler said. “We didn’t have phones. She affected radiology images and laboratory results.”

The hospital said in a statement that it was “proud of our team’s work to provide the best possible care while the investigation and restoration were underway.”

Penchukov was also known as Vyacheslav Igoravich Andreev and Tank, an online nickname, according to the Justice Department. He had been in the FBI. The list of the most wanted by Cyber for almost a decade.

Mr. Penchukov’s sentencing is scheduled for May 9. He faces up to 20 years in prison on each count.