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(Bloomberg) — Alla Witte’s plans for a new career as a computer programmer included helping clients make enough money to see the world, according to YouTube videos and social media posts. She was in her late 40s with a degree in applied mathematics and an itch to do computer programming.
But there was a darker side to Witte’s interest in computers, according to federal prosecutors. In the six years leading to October 2018, Witte, a Latvian citizen who grew up in Russia, allegedly transformed from amateur developer to a key cog in a cybercrime syndicate known as Trickbot.
Witte, now 55, assumed the identity “Max” and started writing illicit code, according to a federal indictment unsealed on Feb. 8 after she was detained in Miami. She’s since been transferred to Cleveland, where she’s one of seven alleged members of the Trickbot gang facing charges for their role in a global fraud, data theft and ransomware operation with roots in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
But Witte is the first alleged member of the Trickbot cybergang ever to be detained in the U.S. She appeared before a U.S. magistrate judge on June 4 for her arraignment, where she waived her rights to a detention hearing. She hasn’t yet made any pleadings in the case.
Witte’s public defender in Cleveland, Ed Bryan, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
If Witte were to cooperate with authorities, her insights could be invaluable at a time when the Biden administration and a newly formed Justice Department task force are taking aim at ransomware and other cybercrime, said Alex Holden, the founder of the cyber-investigations firm Hold Security. She could also help U.S. officials understand the structure of a tenacious and wide-ranging cybercrime operation with so many tentacles that it managed to evade a pair of takedown operations by U.S. Cyber Command and Microsoft Corp. in 2020, he said.
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