A man alleged to be a major Russian spam boss has been detained in Spain at the request of U.S. authorities, an arrest that set cybersecurity circles abuzz after a Russian broadcaster raised the possibility it was also linked to the U.S. presidential election.
Pyotr Levashov, 36, was arrested Friday in Barcelona following a joint FBI-Spanish operation also aimed at bringing down his Kelihos botnet, Spanish authorities said in a statement, describing one of the better known networks of compromised computers.
Levashov is accused by a leading spam watchdog and other cybercrime watchers of being Peter Severa, who has been mentioned in relation to the Kelihos botnet. The arrest drew attention after his wife told Russia's RT broadcaster that he told her he was being linked to America's 2016 election hacking.
RT quoted Maria Levashova as saying that armed police stormed into their apartment in Barcelona, keeping her and her friend locked in a room for two hours while they quizzed her husband. She said that when she spoke by phone to her husband after his arrest, he said he was told he had created a computer virus that was "linked to Trump's election win."
Levashova didn't elaborate, and the exact nature of the allegations weren't immediately clear. Malicious software is routinely shared, reworked and repurposed, meaning that even a computer virus' creator may have little or nothing to do with how the virus is eventually used.
Levashov himself couldn't immediately be reached for comment, and officials did not say whether he had a lawyer.
The U.S. Embassy in Spain declined comment. Russian Embassy spokesman Vasily Nioradze confirmed the arrest, but wouldn't say whether he was a programmer, as reported by RT. Nioradze wouldn't comment on the U.S. extradition order.
"As it is routine in these cases, we offer consular support to our citizen," he said.
Satter contributed from London. Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.