May 26, 2022

Pavel Vrublevsky, founder of the Russian payment technology firm ChronoPay and the antagonist in my 2014 book “Spam Nation,” was arrested in Moscow this month and charged with fraud. Russian authorities allege Vrublevsky operated several fraudulent SMS-based payment schemes, and facilitated money laundering for Hydra, the largest Russian darknet market. But according to information obtained by KrebsOnSecurity, it is equally likely Vrublevsky was arrested thanks to his propensity for carefully documenting the links between Russia’s state security services and the cybercriminal underground.

An undated photo of Vrublevsky at his ChronoPay office in Moscow.

ChronoPay specializes in providing access to the global credit card networks for “high risk” merchants — businesses involved in selling services online that tend to generate an unusually large number of chargebacks and reports of fraud, and hence have a higher risk of failure.

When I first began writing about Vrublevsky in 2009 as a reporter for The Washington Post, ChronoPay and its sister firm Red & Partners (RNP) were earning millions setting up payment infrastructure for fake antivirus peddlers and spammers pimping male enhancement drugs.

Using the hacker alias “RedEye,” the ChronoPay CEO oversaw a burgeoning pharmacy spam affiliate program called Rx-Promotion, which paid some of Russia’s most talented spammers and virus writers to bombard the world with junk email promoting…

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