US Feds recently arrested Artem Vaulin a.k.a “tirm”, the 30-year-old co-founder of KickAssTorrents (KAT), from Poland over the charges of money laundering and copyright infringement. KickAssTorrents is (was) biggest torrents website in the world. Founded in 2008, it rapidly started growing and finally beat The Pirate Bay for the top spot in the world of illegal downloads. It gets more than 50 million monthly users and is estimated to be the 68th most frequently visited website on the internet.
Jared Der-Yeghiayan, a special agent with the US Department of Homeland Security, was tasked to track the person behind KickAssTorrents. He submitted a 48-page criminal complaint (PDF) in U.S. District Court in Chicago which reveals exactly how he was able to track Artem Vaulin down.
It all started with a fake ad
No one could imagine but it all started with a fake ad on KickAssTorrents back in November 2015. The undercover special agent got in touch with people behind KAT to put an ad on the website. The ad was purportedly for a program which offered studies in United States and it was to show up on every torrent listing for $300 a day. The main aim of this ad was to find KAT’s bank account which the special agent successfully did. The ad money was linked to a Latvian bank account which received $31 million in deposits between August 2015 and March 2016.
In addition to the bank account, the authorities was also able to find the email ID ([email protected]) which was not only used to communicate with potential ad buyers but was also linked to KAT’s Facebook page named “official.KAT.fanclub”. This is where Facebook helped the officials in tracking all the information present on the social media website related to that email address.
Using some basic website-tracking services, the authorities were able to find the seven domains – kickasstorrents.com, kat.cr, kickass.to, kat.ph, kastatic.com, thekat.tv and kickass.cr – which were redirecting the traffic to KickAssTorrents. Upon checking the WHOIS records, which contains name, email, address and phone number of the domain owner, the agent was able to find a lot of information about all these domains. In the case ofkickasstorrents.biz, Artem Vaulin name came up along with his town, country and a new email address.
This is where Apple came in. They linked this new email address to an iTunes account. And Apple’s records showed that on July 31st 2015, the same account was used to purchase something on iTunes. The IP that was used to make this purchase was also used to access KAT’s Facebook page on the same day. This is how FBI was able to pin point the location of Vaulin.
The same email address was also linked to a BitCoin account on CoinBase which KAT used to accept donations. This account was in Vaulin’s name and had received about $72,767 as donations.
Connecting all these dots, the FBI had enough evidence to arrest Vaulin in Poland and now they are waiting for him to be extradited to USA where he will go through a trial for money laundering and copyrights infringement. Given the amount of evidence FBI has, Vaulin won’t be coming out for a long period.
Homeland Security has also asked the domain registrars to shutdown the seven domains and redirect them to a website of Homeland’s choosing. KickAssTorrents is now down.