He’s Ukrainian. He goes by the name “Profexer.” And he’s allegedly behind the software that kicked off the Great DNC Hacking of 2016—you know, the one that may have swayed an entire American presidential election.
Other personal details about the reportedly young man are vanishingly scarce, according to The New York Times, but its his professional credentials that may illuminate key parts of how the Russian government runs its hacking operations.
Profexer may not have been a Russian government operative himself, but he is the alleged author of the malware that helped Russian operatives hack the Democratic National Committee (and steal DNC emails) in an attempt to sway the 2016 United States presidential election in favor of President Donald Trump.
So: If the man himself doesn’t work for Moscow, then who is he?
He built dangerous malware where few could find it
If you were one of the few who found themselves adept at uncovering malware code on the Russian-language dark web a few months ago, you might have come across Profexer’s work.
Per the Times, his malware, called P.A.S. web shell, was the only one mentioned in the Department of Homeland Security’s first report about Russian hacking in the U.S. election. And let’s say you were able to find it, by chance? The malware was free. Profexer made his money on the people who wanted customized versions of that free stuff. The man was reportedly respected enough to earn both awe and cash.
He was scared once officials found his malware
Profexer dismantled his dark web site once his malware showed up in the DHS report. Six days later, he reassured fellow hackers that no one had killed him. In a brief debate with another hacker over the possibility of his capture, he said authorities would be able to find him without a problem, “it depends only on politics.”
He turned himself in after U.S. officials identified his malware
Rather than wait, Profexer walked out from behind his computer. Ukrainian law enforcement didn’t arrest him, reportedly because the man behind the malware built it without using it. Officials did, however, acquaint Profexer with the FBI, for whom he is now a witness.
He knows who used his creations…sort of
Profexer knows the people who used his malware, but only in the same way we know Profexer—by their screennames.
If he can identify which users were likely Russian operatives, more questions might be answered, and officials might better understand how the Russian government runs cyberoperations. Do they, as The Times suggested, spend more time looking for useful malware, rather than developing it themselves? Are Russian cyber officials as much crowdsourcers as they are hackers, gathering the best tools they can find before aiming them at their own targets? And was this effective enough to count government subcontracting hacker-built software as the future of diplomatic warfare?
Needless to say: More to come.