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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Suspected Hacker Detained in Surgut

A computer hacker has been detained in the Western Siberian town of Surgut on suspicion of extorting $10,000 from a U.S. bank, Moscow police said Thursday.

Police picked up the suspect, identified only as Nikolai, on Jan. 15. If convicted, he faces up to 15 years in prison.

"The hacker is accused only of extorting money," said Olga Dumalkina, spokeswoman for the Moscow computer fraud unit. "It is unlikely he will be charged for the bank's total financial damages."

The bank paid out $10,000 in December but estimates its total financial damage at $250,000, Dumalkina said.

She said the suspect is a 21-year-old university dropout who hacked into a bank in the state of New York from his home computer. She refused to identify the bank.

In April 2001, using skills he learned from a Moscow-based web site where hackers swap information, Nikolai broke into the web server of On-line Resources Corp. in Virginia, which provides banking services via the Internet and stores confidential information about client accounts, Moscow police said.

Dumalkina said the U.S Embassy approached the unit in November 2001, saying an unidentified Russian citizen was attempting to extort money from a bank after breaking into its database and threatening to publish account details. To buttress the threat, the hacker posted details from 1,500 accounts online.

The hacker exchanged letters with the bank by e-mail, and the Moscow computer fraud unit managed to track him by his IP address to Surgut, Dumalkina said. "Sitting in Surgut, Nikolai didn't suspect that he was being traced from Moscow," she said.

Nikolai is in custody in Surgut and his personal bank account been frozen.

According to the computer fraud unit, cases of illegal computer intrusions multiplied last year. In Moscow alone, the number of registered crimes jumped from 44 in 2000 to 182. For the most part, hackers targeted financial institutions, Dumalkina said.

In a similar case last year, Alexei Ivanov, 20, and Vasily Gorshkov, 26, of Chelyabinsk in the Ural Mountains, were indicted by a U.S. grand jury for hacking into Californian e-commerce systems. They are awaiting trial and face up to 100 years in prison if convicted.